By Satyen K. Bordoloi
Film: "Red Alert: The War Within"; Director: Anant Mahadevan; Cast: Suniel Shetty, Sameera Reddy, Ashish Vidyarthi, Vinod Khanna, Seema Biswas, Ayesha Dharker, Bhagyashree; Rating: *** and 1/2
Arundhati Roy called their fight the single greatest resistance against oppression in the world, while our prime minister, the deceptively genial Manmohan Singh, called them the greatest internal security threat. Between these extreme reports of their bringing rural-equality and their massacres, what's the truth about the Maoists or Naxalites?
What is their motivation, and why has this movement of the 1960s recently gathered momentum for such extreme views to develop. Between this hero-worship of Roy and the hyperbole of Singh, lies "Red Alert".
When Narasimha (Shetty) gets caught in the crossfire between police and Maoists, he is rescued and taken along by Maoists. Here he lives among the outlaws and become one of them. However, a farmer cannot really come to terms with killing people and he is at loggerheads with the Maoist group's leader Velu (Vidhyarthi).
Through the eyes of Narasimha "Red Alert" shows us the life of the 'red' rebels who live and fight in the jungles. It paints their motivations, their weaknesses, their compassion and brutality, while never once patronising the rebels, the police, or the viewer. Everything in the film, like in life, is grey.
The Maoist movement began as a resistance against the oppression of landlords in the 1960s and today it is a violent resistance against the new landlords - government backed MNCs and national companies who want to make profit at the cost of the very people living there and of the environment, not to mention the nation if you consider deeper economics.
Fighting them are the armed forces of the country - the police and paramilitary forces. How then have they been able to survive the might of the state? The film gives examples of how they often bring justice and fair wages to the rural populace, leading to their support.
Instead, because of the use by security forces of various injudicious methods like 'rape' and burning of villages as a weapon against Maoists, they have only further alienated the people who have found no recourse but to become guerrillas themselves. "Red Alert" depicts this reality with precision.
Director Anant Mahadevan has done a commendable job of accumulating a motley group of great actors who do not fail the story and their parts. The lead, Suniel Shetty, however, looks like a rank amateur pitted against this ensemble of actors like Seema Biswas, Ayesha Dharker, Ashish Vidhyarthi and Vinod Khanna. Even Nasseruddin Shah in a two minute cameo as a drunkard soars, telling us once more as to why many worldwide consider him a living legend.
The dialogues and treatment are crisp and sympathetic to both the sides. The details of Maoist movement and modus operandi are well in tune with known facts, and so is that of the security forces.
The main drawback of the film, however, is that it often ends up becoming a mere document of these, rather than a cinematic reinterpretation. Though, even in this it does a commendable job, interweaving multiple plots and characters believably.
In the end, the film also tries to elucidate a third way of peace and prosperity for all. But it seems more utopic than real as it relies on the good nature of otherwise greedy Indians.
Yet it is a triumph that in such charged times, the film not only got made but found a release. Hats off to every filmmaker like Anant Mahadevan who dares to venture to cinematic realms few dare go.
Bollywood.com Rating: 3.5