A grumpy Captain Sodhi (MK Raina), the black sheep of the family, arrives in Singapore to meet his ailing sister, but he hardly spends time with her. Instead, he warms up to his grandnephew Amar (Karanvir Malhotra), a budding photojournalist who wishes to go to Burma to cover the political turbulence. The year is 1996.
Sodhi tells Amar the story of his participation in World War II, his enlistment in Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, and their failed attempt to free India through military action.
A humiliating defeat of British forces by the Japanese in Singapore in 1942 results in thousands of Indian soldiers becoming prisoners of war. This becomes the catalyst for beleaguered soldiers to join INA. They train in Singapore and, with the help of Japan, prepare to march to India to attempt an overthrow of British rule.
Creator and director Kabir Khan’s five-episode series The Forgotten Army – Azaadi Ke Liye for Amazon Prime Video is indeed the tale of a chapter of Indian history that has been overlooked in popular culture.
We learn that Captain Sodhi’s saga is not just about his patriotism and zeal, but also a love story with another photographer-chronicler-soldier Maya (Sharvari Wagh) – the character is based partly on Janaki Thevar. Through upheavals in Singapore, the jungles of Burma and battles with the British, a young Sodhi (Sunny Kaushal), with friend Arshad (Rohit Chaudhary), lives the life of a soldier caught between duty and patriotism, neither a hero nor a coward.
A powerful, complex and layered narrative is weakened by a script (Khan, Heeraz Marfatia and Shubhra Marfatia) that takes the road most travelled – via Bollywood. In other words, intercutting a powerful period story with a convenient romantic track, underlining the emotion with songs (by Pritam) and use of non-natural dialogue.
While the idea of focussing on the soldier’s perspective and the formation of the Rani of Jhansi women’s regiment is interesting, the love story becomes an irritant. It’s a distraction from the complexity of the chronicle of the army of volunteers who bravely or, some may argue, foolishly, marched into battle against the British oppressors. Was the INA simply inept or were they misguided and betrayed?
Several loopholes crop up. Why does a Japanese soldier commit hara-kiri when his orders are only to retreat? How does Sodhi easily find the missing pieces of his love story on an unplanned trip to Burma after so many years?
Effort and resources have been channelled into creating war scenes and establishing scale, though the computer graphics are unrefined and the action design is limited in its vision. Khan is judicious in his use of archival footage and smoothly transitions to recreated scenes and dramatisation.
An inexperienced cast works hard to portray nuance but even the veterans, such as Amala Akkineni and Nizhalgal Ravi (as Maya’s parents) seem unsure. Sunny Kaushal carries the burden of his central character with commitment. Sharvari Wagh is charming as the idealistic young woman believing in a free India.
With more questions than answers, the ambitious The Forgotten Army simply scratches the surface of an important chapter in India’s history.