If you Google “Jehanabad jailbreak”, you will find jaw-dropping reports of how, on November 13, 2005, hundreds of Communist Party of India (Maoist) members marched into the town in Bihar, battled the security forces for hours, freed imprisoned comrades and gunned down other incarcerated members of the upper-caste Ranvir Sena militia.
This audacious incident is surely filled with enough drama in itself to merit a rigorous examination of the hows and whys. However, the SonyLIV web series on the Jehanabad jailbreak wants to be entertaining in addition to sidestepping any accusation that it is glorifying the Maoists.
As a result, it has star-crossed lovers, a revolutionary who emits gangster vibes, a cynical politician, and various characters with forked tongues. To misquote Jean-Luc Godard, the show wants to be a “battleground”, with “love, hate, action, violence, death...in one word: emotion”.
If you forget the inspiration behind Jehanabad – Of Love & War, the show is a deep-fried saga of the hard choices necessitated by the intersection of the personal and the political.
The 10-episode series has been created and written by Rajeev Barnwal and directed by him and Satyanshu Singh. The creators bring together three plot strands that appear to have been woven from the same yarn that produced the Mani Ratnam film Dil Se.
Precocious college student Kasturi (Harshita Gaur) gets infatuated with her clean-cut college professor Abhimanyu (Ritwik Bhowmik). Kasturi is used to getting her way, which draws her into frequent spats with her mother (Sonal Jha). How could Abhimanyu possibly resist Kasturi, even though it means violating the rules that govern teacher-pupil relationships?
Kasturi’s father (Rajesh Jais) works at the Jehanabad prison, whose prized inmate is the charismatic Maoist leader Deepak Kumar (Parambrata Chattopadhyay). Despite being in the crosshairs of police officer Durgesh (Satyadeep Mishra), the erudite Deepak swaggers about with the air of a man who knows that he isn’t going to be behind bars for too long.
In the third strand, an upcoming election sees upper-caste politician Shivanand (Rajat Kapoor) paying lip service to disenfranchised voters. Shivanand latches on to every cause, including appropriating the suicide of a Dalit student. A sub-strand revolves around Maoists lurking about in the forests and in Jehanabad.
We get some insights into the meticulous planning by the Maoists, their revolutionary zeal and their capacity for sacrifice. Time is meaningless for us since our mission spans eras, a character observes.
The show keeps its powder dry for the bulk of its run-time, attempting to provide a portrait of the political realities of Bihar in 2005. Although Shivanand is the kind of venal politico we have met before, his shenanigans amply provide the background for the prison run.
But the romance between Kasturi and Abhimanyu, disconcerting in the beginning and eventually a drag, keeps getting in the way of a study of modern guerrilla warfare. The prison break plot itself is presented as a conspiracy thriller, replete with meetings in darkened corners and deception in broad daylight (some characters are not who they claim to be). Despite being heavily spiced, these sections of the 10-episode series are the most absorbing.
The noteworthy performers include Harshita Gaur as the perky young woman who moves around Jehanabad untrammelled and turns up in places where she could not possibly be present. Rajesh Jais and Sonal Jha, as Kasturi’s long-suffering parents, Satyadeep Mishra as a well-meaning police officer, and Suneel Sinha as a Maoist conspirator are among the more convincing actors in a show that looks elsewhere for chilli powder that is already present in the heapfuls.