Whenever a film begins with a counter-terrorism operation, we know that the operation is designed not to end well. When we see one too many smiles before the mission ends, we know danger awaits. When you have an NSG commando struggling to train his gun on a target due to PTSD, we know that this angle will be addressed, and redemption will ensue sometime. There’s an air of predictability about State of Siege: Temple Attack.
Akshaye Khanna’s Major Hanut Singh is a loose cannon who is constantly admonished by his commanding officer Col. Nagar (Parvin Dabas). Not a big fan of sticking to a plan, Singh constantly jumps the gun for the greater good, even in the face of overwhelming risks. It is with this cavalier attitude that Major Singh gets involved in a counter-terrorist operation inside the Krishna Dham Temple, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
Much like there is an overcrowding of espionage thrillers in the Indian OTT space, it seems this is happening to counter-terrorist operations stories as well. We recently had another series, Avrodh: The Siege Within, on Sony LIV, to add on to what seems like revived interest in cinema jingoism. The novelty is beginning to wear off. The operations seem repetitive and jaded. Unless there is ingenuity in the chamber drama-esque proceedings of such films, the stories themselves seem like hollow excuses to string together some functional set pieces.
Also, there is a sense of weariness in how terrorists are being portrayed on screen. Of course, the identifiers are there in the names, their language, and their war cries, but should they all be written as unidimensional characters? Sure, terrorists don’t necessarily need character arcs, but when all you get are excruciating stereotypes, it doesn’t help retain your interest. We have a hot-headed terrorist, a naive and starry-eyed young one, a level-headed and hence, a leader figure type, and there’s the dispensable strongman as well. We see these archetypes over and over again in these stories.
To the film’s credit though, the temple takeover begins on a chilling note. Even before we can come to terms with automatic weapons being brandished inside a temple, there is bloodshed and indiscriminate killings, especially of two old women. The writers waste no time in setting things up, and the sound of the never-ending stream of bullets is unsettling. Unfortunately, this strong beginning fizzles out due to the generic writing that follows. Even the strong technical aspects of the film, especially the brilliant cinematography, can only do so much when the characters aren’t etched properly. We are given backstories of a handful of hostages in an attempt to humanise them, but you don’t really feel the impact. Akshaye Khanna’s steely demeanour is impressive, but it isn’t enough.
Keeping aside the middling attempt at retelling one of the most chilling terrorist attacks in India, what really pulls the film down is also its ‘good Muslim-bad Muslim’ template that feels more like an afterthought. Similarly, when the saffron-clad swamiji of the temple says, “Violence might pose a lot of questions, but love is the only answer,” you aren’t really moved; you are simply rolling your eyes.
The setting is familiar; there’s a Gujarat CM whose favourite word is ‘saathiyon’ (friends); his pet project is ‘Rajya Shining’; the genre lends itself naturally to overt machismo. And yet, State of Siege: Temple Attack can only deliver mildly satisfying returns.
Director: Ken Ghosh
Cast: Akshaye Khanna, Sameer Soni, Parvin Dabas, Manjari Fadnis
Streaming on: Zee5