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A still from <i>The Forgotten Army</i>.
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‘The Forgotten Army’ Has Its Heart and Politics in the Right Place

The web series attempts to tell the story of the Indian National Army (INA).

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The Forgotten Army

‘The Forgotten Army’ Has Its Heart and Politics in the Right Place

Storytellers around the world are trying to right events and re-educate audiences with newer and better-researched versions of events past. One such forgotten story is that of 50,000 Indians who found themselves in khaki, stationed in a foreign land, preparing to wage a war of independence for their country. In most of our history texts, the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army (INA) exists merely as a corollary to the life of Subhash Chandra Bose and this was a story that needed to be righted.

Kabir Khan’s five episode (30 minutes each) mini series on Amazon Prime, The Forgotten Army - Azaadi Ke Liye, attempts to do just that.

This isn’t the first ‘mainstream’ attempt to tell the story of the INA but is the first one that dwells on the outfit itself, rather than the life of Bose. And that’s what makes it so different.

This isn’t Kabir Khan’s maiden attempt at telling the story either and his 1999 documentary series, The Forgotten Army, was what got him noticed as a filmmaker and kicked off his career. The material was collected through years of painstaking research and in-depth interviews with INA veterans, Captain Lakshmi Sahgal and Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon amongst others. Twenty years later, Khan attempts to tell the same story, but in a more dramatised avatar.

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<i>The Forgotten Army </i>sheds light on the Indian National Army (INA).
The Forgotten Army sheds light on the Indian National Army (INA).
(Photo: YouTube Screengrab)

The story is set in the 1990s where an INA veteran, Colonel Sodhi (MK Raina) revisits his experiences along with his great-nephew, Amar (Karanvir Malhotra). As they sift through old newspaper articles, Colonel Sodhi admits that his story is deeply intertwined with that of Maya Srinivasan (Sharvari Wagh), a Singapore-born photojournalist who had never been to India, yet ended up joining the INA. In this, Khan reads his audience right by bringing in a love story, a trope that always serves filmmakers well in this country. With the young Sodhi (Sunny Kaushal) and Maya driving forward the narrative, Khan finds a softer sub-plot to tell an otherwise largely violent story, all the while maintaining a balance that works for a larger ’television’ audience.

The Forgotten Army also navigates issues that we, as a country, are dealing with even today. The INA had the world’s first all-female combat regiment, and that the makers of the show decided to place this at the centre of their narrative, says a lot about the purity of intent.

There are subtle lessons on equality, with the depiction of an army that shed deeply ingrained stereotypes of which races make for good warriors and which don’t. Every willing Indian was allowed to be a part of the INA, regardless of caste, religion and gender.

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The makers have placed the INA’s all female combat regiment at the centre of the show’s narrative.
The makers have placed the INA’s all female combat regiment at the centre of the show’s narrative.
(Photo: YouTube Screengrab)

There is scale to the project and one sees it with the sets, costumes and production. When 30,000 Japanese soldiers ride through a forest on bicycles, it’s convincing. What isn’t convincing, however, is the pedestrian CGI that lacks detailing of any kind. Expansive scenes with nary a wrinkle are just jarring when one’s become used to so much better. Unfortunately, that’s not the least of The Forgotten Army’s problems.

While this isn’t the obvious chest thumping fare we’ve come to associate with most of our patriotic cinema, a lot of the dialogue is bookish, contrived and far from real. The performances are mostly forgettable, barring that of debutante Sharwari Wagh who portrays a feisty 19-year-old with understated assurance.
Newcomer Sharvari Wagh’s performance stands out in the show.
Newcomer Sharvari Wagh’s performance stands out in the show.
(Photo: YouTube Screengrab)

There’s another problem that seems to afflict our filmmakers when making content for OTT platforms. While there’s a latent desire to be more real because the medium affords that, the baggage that comes with being part of mainstream Bollywood cinema seemingly doesn’t allow them to go all the way. This show, for example, has characters speaking multiple languages including Japanese, English and Tamil to ‘maintain authenticity.’ At the same time, there are no reasons offered as to why a girl born to a Singapore-based Tamilian family would keep breaking out into Hindi while speaking to her parents.

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The Forgotten Army has its heart in the right place as it tells a mostly unknown story while trying to keep it real. As a whole package though, it doesn’t quite come together in the end. It’s definitely worth a watch, but might not find the kind of social buzz a story like this deserves.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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