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Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Forgotten Army Amazon Review: Kabir Khan’s Heartfelt Ode to Unsung History

The Forgotten Army – Azaadi Ke Liye, is based on the true story of Indian soldiers who marched towards the capital, with the war cry ‘Challo Dilli’, to free their country from the reign of the British.

The Indian National Army (INA), which was forged out of British defeat in Singapore during WWII, was led by the charismatic Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

It also had the first-ever women infantry regiment anywhere in the world.

While these soldiers (men and women) fought against all odds and against the British army to free India, their struggle and story somehow got lost. Eventually, they became ‘the forgotten army’.

This series chronicles the love story between two soldiers – Colonel Sodhi (Sunny Kaushal) and Maya (Sharvari Wagh).

Plus, it further raises several questions about identity, independence and the identity of ‘motherland’ as well as the cost of freedom.

Freedom, that we often take for granted but the freedom that costs countless lives and sacrifices.

Fighting to keep independence alive is often more difficult than fighting to gain freedom.

Given Kabir Khan’s previous experience of exploring this subject matter in a documentary, he deserves credit for weaving a poignant and stirring narrative.

From such a major chapter in history to choose particular moments and create a compelling story around it, requires craft and experience, which he displays very well.

His forte of setting stories on human relationships amidst the backdrop of war and political turmoil works effectively yet again.

Unlike before, Khan uses parallel storytelling set in two different conflicts: One is of India’s freedom struggle and the other is the Myanmar Protests in Rangoon during the 90s.

Despite set in two different time zones and (almost) different countries, we see the uproar of undermined people, fighting for their own respective independence.

It is not easy to balance two stories at the same time, but Khan does this with such precision and consistency that the constant shift between both retellings become easy to understand.

A special mention here also goes to the crisp editing and appealing cinematography, as well as Julius Packham’s uplifting background score. These aspects enhance the overall visual appeal.

The most effective aspect of Kabir’s direction is that he does not drown the mini-series in facts and statistics.

Instantly, from the first frame, he introduces the main protagonist (Colonel Sodhi), which in turn allows the viewers to resonate with him.

When making a series of such a calibre, a director’s vision can get quite clouded by the nationalistic sentiments, which in turn impacts the art of storytelling.

But Kabir stays true to his narration style. At no point does the series get engulfed by the ‘politics’ of the conflict.

Rather, he brings out the humanness of each character, which does not demonise the ‘enemy’.

He remains objective in his style of narration, which is why the show works effectively from a viewing perspective.

For me, as a British Indian, to watch such an unsung story made me quite emotional. It really makes us question why such a pivotal chapter of our past has got lost in history books.

Moreover, it yet again (after Kesari) acts as a harsh reminder of how Indians were forced as pawns for the British to defend their country against invaders… Ruled by invaders.

On that respect, The Forgotten Army manages to enlighten viewers, as well as engage them.

The cast performances are also the backbone in which Sunny Kaushal is excellent as Colonel Sodhi.

In addition to the formidable body language and dialogue delivery, he exhibits the sentimental value of his character effortlessly and consistently. Kaushal is amongst the best actors of this generation.

Sharvari Wagh makes her acting debut in this and what a fabulous talent she is. Despite playing the female protagonist, her role is not reduced to a ‘love interest’.

She displays equal strength and motivation towards the freedom of her country. Her chemistry and rapport with Sunny are heartfelt too. She is a remarkable talent to watch out for!

MK Raina as the older Sodhi is just as powerful. During intense and emotional quotients his intriguing performance strikes a solid chord with the viewers.

Both Kaushal and Wagh share brilliant chemistry together… We need to see them in another venture again.

Karanvir Malhotra as Amar – Sodhi’s nephew and an aspiring journalist, is also good in his part.

Hearing Shah Rukh Khan’s voice narrating the historical circumstances of each episode is not only a treat for viewers, but also reinforces the ‘resilient’ sentiment of India’s uncelebrated Bravehearts.

Usually, with digital shows, a narrative gets unnecessarily stretched out to the point where the second-half becomes tedious.

This is fortunately not the case with The Forgotten Army and nor are there any ‘glitches’ or ‘weak points which bring the product down. 

Having said that though, it would’ve been nice to hear more songs from Pritam rather than just hearing ‘Azaadi Ke Liye’ repeated throughout the duration of the series.

The fact that Arijit Singh has lent his voice to that anthem, it would’ve been more pleasing and soul-stirring to hear another track to accompany the narrative.

In addition, the viewer needs to pay close attention to whatever unfolds in each episode, this is because the historical context is not common knowledge. 

A series like The Forgotten Army does not just offer mesmerising visual aesthetics but also has the power to educate audiences, as well as raise questions on our history.

Both Sunny Kaushal and Sharvari Wagh do full justice in paying a tribute to India’s forgotten heroes and collectively, this Amazon Prime Original marks a milestone in their careers.

As for the director Kabir Khan, well, he has perhaps given his career’s best work since Bajrangi Bhaijaan.  In fact, I’ll even go on to say that this Amazon’s best Indian series after Made In Heaven. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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