Mayank Shekhar's Review: Red Alert


By Mayank Shekhar, Hindustan Times

Red Alert Director: Ananth Mahadevan Actors: Sunil Shetty, Ashish Vidyarthi Rating: **

Naseeruddin Shah has clearly chosen cameos for his belated forte. In the final minutes of this film (like the opening sequence of Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti), he randomly saunters on to the screen, this time, to express
his audience’s most urgent sentiment: a long-drawn yawn.

A poor man (Sunil Shetty) walks in to his house. It turns out they were classmates once. How many years Naseer may have flunked school to match Shetty’s years is not known. But his poor guest is in serious trouble: caught between the Maoist army, and the state police.

SunielThis Andhraite fellow (Shetty), the hero, a reasonably gymmed out, toned up man for a BPL (below poverty line) bloke, was hijacked by Naxalites in one of their combat operations. The outlawed group promised to pay off this cook’s personal debts, if he took up guns for them. Killing wasn’t his field. He wanted to go home to his wife and kids. Money remained his issue. He had to bump off the Maoist platoon chief (Ashish Vidyarthi) to finally win his freedom. Now the Naxals are after him. So are the local police. He doesn’t know where to go. Neither does the film. But that’s not new; for the film, that is.

The movie’s set in the angry, underdeveloped forest belts of Andhra Pradesh, one of the many flashpoints of an ongoing civil war, better known as the Naxalite movement in India. There’s nothing civil about a war that’s kept a third of the country hostage to recurring attacks and violence, compounding a problem it professes to solve. The subject certainly deserves a film, and many more enquiries. What you cannot shy away from then is a personal take. Opinions are never right or wrong. Govind Nihalani’s Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (1998) was sympathetic to Naxals at its birthplace in Bengal. Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005) favourably touched upon its origins in the ‘70s.

The contemporary view on this screen is relatively spot-on: the camera neatly pans across honestly chosen locations. The vision is but peripheral, and the viewpoint, entirely missing, as we follow a group of armed revolutionaries in fits and starts settling scores with a democratic state, they feel, has failed them entirely.

One of the group commanders, who looks suspiciously like the author Pankaj Mishra, says reading books is all he does: “Words have the power that guns don't.” The words don’t match his own actions. His boss suggests the difference between terrorism and revolution as one that’s directed against the “state”, and the other, against the “system”.

He doesn’t figure for us a difference between state and the system itself. He and his comrades, many of them women (Seema Biswas, Ayesha Dharker, Sameera Reddy), merely go around blowing up police stations and other public works, in the name of their neglected brothers.

At some point even Osama’s means are mixed up with Maoists’ for an intended message. Good lord. The film’s complex subject then remains at once its only merit, and its immediate failing. A naïve cook (Sunil Shetty) among many crooks – state, or non-state gun-totters -- is no story either. You feel for neither, because you’re not meant to. The movie, dull on drama, doesn’t take a stand. The backdrop is its only purpose, and doubles up for its skeletal plot. The picture probably started out with, “Let’s make a movie on Naxalites. Art picture. No songs!" The rest should follow.

I suppose you may as well go back to popular narrative that plays out Maoist attacks each day as some chicken-egg catfight between bleeding heart liberals (Arundhati Roy), and a ruthlessly heartless Indian state (P Chidambaram). It’s at least reductive enough to make for a good read, or watch -- from a distance, of course. Rating: 3.5