The five-episode series (which I binge-watched) starts smashingly, underscoring Kabir Khan’s cinematic expertise that was seen in all his films and notably in “Kabul Express,” “Ek Tha Tiger,” and “Bajrangi Bhaijaan.” Khan claims that this is his dream project, and the first script he ever wrote.
The first episode lays down the foundation. An old man visits his relatives in Singapore and gradually befriends a hostile young man Amar (Karanvir Malhotra) in that family, who wants to go to Myanmar to cover student unrest there. When they finally become friends, the young man comes to know that the elder gentleman knows quite a lot about the city and the reason why.
A 30,000-strong Japanese force had defeated a 90,000-strong British army around Singapore in the Second World War, which included about 60,000 Indian soldiers. The British are mostly shot, but the Indians fighting for them are taken prisoner and advised to join Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to free India from the British with the slogan “Chalo Dilli” (Let’s march to Delhi).
One of the prisoners was Captain Sodhi (Sunny Kaushal) who is now the old man. Almost all the Indians are moved by Netaji’s speeches and start wanting to fight for India’s freedom rather than for the British cause. A special women’s platoon, named after Rani Laxmibai, is also formed. In the city, Sodhi has fallen for photojournalist Maya (Sharvari Wagh), who is also inspired by Netaji. She joins the army too.
After this, it is all about the bravery and the hardships that the INA faces as it moves towards India via Myanmar, then known as Burma. But Khan cleverly intersperses the present with the past, and of course the love track with the struggle for Freedom. The old Sodhi accompanies Amar to Myanmar, where memories are stirred, last but not least of the memories of the declaration of love for Maya and the consummation of their love. And then, Sodhi comes to know that Maya had remained there and started a school. He traces the school. But is Maya still alive?
The first episode moves at lightning pace, and the Japanese attacking on cycles is the highlight of this riveting episode. The sequence where Maya declares that she will fight for her country (she is from a family settled in Singapore) is another.
The second to fourth episodes lag in pace and tend to be a shade repetitious in the action. The one-liners are good, the performances uniformly brilliant, but somehow the grip goes down. The last 20 minutes of the final episode (each is over 30 minutes) again begin to grip and the show ends as such a story should to make a decent impact, albeit in a very ‘filmi’ way.
There is one cliché that is glaring and absurd in the series, and those who watch it will realize that it is about the love note exchanged between the lovers.
Technically, it is amazing what web shows achieve and we would love to know the revenue models that make all this feasible. Julius Packiam’s background score is, to use one word, monumental. Pritam has composed some wonderful songs that fit perfectly, and they are well-worded as well.
Sunny Kaushal is superb as Sodhi the soldier, ditto M.K. Raina as his doughty old avatar. Sharvari Wagh is stupendous in her comparatively briefer role. Karanvir Malhotra, T.J. Bhanu as Rosamma and Rohit Chaudhary as Arshad are excellent, as is the actor with the flute.
“The Forgotten Army—Azaadi Ke Liye” needs to be watched to understand a lot about freedom, and the role the Indian National Army played in it. History books and successive political regimes in India have suppressed the true bravery and glories of these brave men and the first-ever women’s regiment in the world. Within this, Khan has woven in a lovely romantic tale, and shown that even today, young Indians should keep the interests of their nation paramount even outside the armed forces.
Created and directed by: Kabir Khan
Written by: Kabir Khan, Heeraz Marfatia & Shubhra Marfatia
Starring: Sunny Kaushal, Sharvari Wagh, Rohit Chaudhary, T.J. Bhanu, Karanvir Malhotra, M.K. Raina, Sushma Seth, Akhil Iyer, Junichi Kajioka, Amala Akkineni, Brijeshkumar Jha, Abhishek Kumar, Paloma Monappa, Nizhalgal Ravi, Shruti Seth, Tom Hutchinson, Takeshi Kitano and others