Review: The Forgotten Army - Azaadi Ke Liye, yes, but for us?

Kabir Khan's five-part series is sprinkled with enough nationalism to make every heart brim with pride, but then...
'The Forgotten Army' poster
'The Forgotten Army' poster

An INA veteran searching for his past, a forgotten love story, repeated flashbacks and generational shifts, and a modern-day India. Sounds like the perfect plot for a movie, does it not? This is Amazon Prime Video's most-recent web series "The Forgotten Army: Azaadi Ke Liye" by Kabir Khan that revolves around the actual forgotten Army - the Subhash Chandra Bose-led INA.

The series is set in two time periods - between 1942-45 when INA was formed and 1996.

It all begins with Surinder Sodhi (MK Raina), a man in his mid-70s to 80s visiting Singapore to meet his ailing sister. He's the protagonist driving the plot. Sodhi hardly has any time and scrambles to find peace in a house where his sister's grandson Amar (Karanvir Malhotra) is adamant about covering the student protests against the government in Burma. 

When Amar is quizzed about why it is so important, he says it is "history in the making". At this juncture, you suspect that Kabir Khan is trying to remind the audience about the ongoing protests against the CAA, but not really. 

Sodhi then starts recounting his time in Singapore, where he was serving in the British Indian Army. From there on the series constantly shuttles between the two timelines mentioned earlier. 

The director's lifetime dream, the Forgotten Army takes us through the journey and struggles of the soldiers in the Army who fought during World War II.

As the flashback starts, we are teleported to the era of pre-independence, and in particular to 1942, when we meet a young introverted Sodhi (Sunny Kaushal) who is trying to work alongside the Australians and Britishers in their mission to hold their own against the Japanese. Eventually, the Britishers surrender and Singapore is renamed Shonan.

Sodhi and other Indians are captured by the Japanese as prisoners of war, who though offer to free them since they are "friends of Gandhi". Himself along with other freed prisoners are then introduced to a person from the Indian National Army (INA), formed by Netaji, who is now friends with the Japanese and has enlisted their help in freeing India.

The INA soldier they meet is one of the thousands of soldiers who had joined the Indian Army after being inspired by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's speeches. The INA also included the first woman regiment in the world - The Rani Lakshmi Bai regiment.

With 'Chalo Dilli' as their war cry, almost 30,000 soldiers - Sodhi included - march towards India to free their country from the British. What happens to their journey? Do they enter India? All these are answered in the rest of the episodes.

In the midst of all this, we have a romance brewing between Sodhi and photographer-cum-soldier Maya Srinivasan (Sharwari Wagh). You might have to switch on the subtitles for this part as the dialogues switch back and forth between English, Hindi and Tamil.

As mentioned earlier, there is a narrative set in present-day 1996 too which is when Sodhi, his grandson (Amar) and their Burma friends get stuck in unfortunate circumstances that leads the Colonel back to the events of 50 years ago. Can he bring his clan to safety to India? Watch to find out.

There might just be five episodes and each episode might span only 30-35 minutes each, but Azaadi Ke Liye has extensive war sequences and many events that are true to the book. Sunny and Sharwari deliver splendid performances as lead actors. The foreigners in the cast and the sets deserve a big hand too. That said, Kabir Khan's labour of love somehow feels like it deserves more.

The five-part series is sprinkled with enough nationalism to make every heart brim with pride, but you can't help wishing for more details, more information, more facts and not a shallow, Bollywood-like 150-minute-long plot. A character mentions "you won't find these in your textbooks." If only mere words could do the trick. 

I was also expecting more on Netaji himself, but he's reduced to a mere shadow whose excellent oration wins over thousands of INA soldiers. The predictable climax in another letdown.

But that's not all, the 'Azadi Ke Liye' theme sung in Arijit Singh's soulful voice could be your next earworm as it appears in the background of every second war sequence. 

Shah Rukh Khan's narration in the beginning of each episode is a bonus as it adds to the weight of the plot.

And lastly, all hail the trivia section in Amazon Prime that shows us the details of the cast, crew and notable facts events from the making.

All said, while the series can be binge-watched in a day, it cannot be guaranteed that the forgotten army will stay in the heart long enough.

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The New Indian Express