NRI Pulse


Movie Review

Sara Ali tries hard to sail through a dull film

BY ARNAB BANERJEE

New Delhi, March 22 (IANS)There may not be anything like an entirely historically accurate film. With liberties taken and not merely tweaked to make incidents more palatable or believable in order to tell a certain story, there could be numerous valid reasons for a storyteller’s dire need to change parts of history.

Unless incidents are altered completely, that may still be explicable or pardonable because contemporary accounts may be colored by a particular ideology, and isn’t it every director’s prerogative to present his or her point of view? What filmmakers cannot afford to get away with is a shoddy narrative that struggles to stay afloat — or poor acting that fails to strike a chord.

We have all grown up studying (and not just reading) history and India’s fight for independence is firmly unshakable as a lesson. Director Kannan Iyer’s biographical ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’ uses the 1942 Quit India Movement as the backdrop to familiarise us with the lesser-heard story of Usha Mehta (Sara Ali Khan).

Mehta is a young girl who has her heart in the right place to send off signals to the British regime that there is a rebellion brewing even in the form of an underground radio station to take on the might of the Raj. With the help of her underground radio, she spreads the strong message of unity among all those who think like her. She wants to defy the British authorities during the Quit India Movement even as the colonial master become all the more violent on Indians who dare to challenge them.

Inspired by the slogan ‘Do or Die’, a group of young people pledge to reinforce her radio rebellion. The running of the short-wave radio is secretly carried out, leaving its listeners intrigued and amused, even as the authorities remain clueless about its inception or its headquarters.

To run Congress Radio and make it the voice that daringly provokes common folk to rise against the tyrannical British rule, Mehta is ably supported by good friends Fahad (Sparsh Srivastav) and Kaushik (Abhay Verma). On the home front, though, all’s not well for Usha. Her father Hariprasad (Sachin Khedekar), a judge, strongly disapproves of her rebellion and favours the British rulers and their policies.

The ingeniously skilful communication with help of the radio bridges the gap to further the fight for Independence. It also manages to rouse the sentiments with its clear message, so much so that it impresses Congress leader Ram Manohar Lohia (Emraan Hashmi), who is on the run evading arrest.

It is only when the British police officer, John Lyre (Alex O’Nell), who seems hell bent on arresting the plotters, swings into action, that matters go out of hand. The young freedom fighters are poorly equipped to counter the brutal regime and its coercive institutions.

Interestingly, some of the characters, while not peddling patriotism, mouth the importance of news and how it empowers a nation. Mehta accuses the British Raj of stifling freedom of expression and spreading falsehood. The official channels of communication are spreading false news, she says, and it is therefore important to get the truth out to the people.

Even Lohia, who idolises Nehru, would not think twice before criticising him if need be. The film may not push in-your-face nationalism, but it does make a point that continues to resonate: Stand up for what is right and don’t be afraid of doing so.

Sara Ali Khan is burdened with a role that lies heavily on her fragile shoulders. To be fair to her, she does try to fit into the shoes of the Gandhian Usha Mehta with all her limitations as an actor.

It is the execution and slow-moving, less-than-riveting drama that unfolds, that is more to be blamed. In comparison, Sparsh Srivastava and Abhay Verma, as Fahad and Kaushik, respectively, leave a mark, particularly Sparsh, who after his impressive debut in Kiran Rao’s ‘Laapata Ladies’, is someone to watch out for.

Amalendu Chaudhary’s cinematography has the right blend of moving images imbued with light and shade that never fails to give us the perfect mix of that forgotten era — both gloomy and exultant.

Lyrics by Daraab Farooqui set to music by the trio of Mukund Suryawanshi, Akashdeep Sengupta and Shashi Suman have the flavour of martyrdom and patriotism rendered flawlessly by Sukhwinder Singh, Swaroop Khan and Javed Ali.

Though the makers have paid attention to the detailing of India under British rule, as a film based on the life of a freedom fighter is supposed to do, it does not move the viewer. ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’, though, addresses the themes of love and revolution, freedom and unity, truth and pragmatism with an undercurrent of subversion that gives it an edge and elevates it above the chronicle it sets out be of the unsung heroes of India’s freedom struggle.

Film: Ae Watan Mere Watan (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video)

Duration: 133 minutes

Cast: Sara Ali Khan, Swarup Srivastava, Anand Verma, Sachin Khedekar and Emraan Hashmi Director: Kannan Iyer

Cinematography: Amalendu Chaudhary Music: Mukund Suryawanshi, Akashdeep Sengupta and Shashi Suman

Rating: **

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