Avrodh web series Review: An engaging retelling that treads the thin line between patriotism and jingoism
Probably because Avrodh is adapted from the book, India's Most Fearless, the depiction of the 'surgical strike' concentrates more on the academic side of the attack
Why are we in awe of cross-border warfare depictions on screen? Despite knowing the collateral damage, the societal impact, and the overwhelming loss for all the parties involved, why do we still exalt them? Is it just the satisfaction of seeing one’s country winning or is it standard order jingoism? Or perhaps it is the nationalistic fervour in seeing what our soldiers in the border have to go through to protect us from dangers lurking in every corner.
Cast: Amit Sadh, Neeraj Kabi, Madhurima Tuli, Darshan Kumaar
Director: Raj Acharya
Streaming on: Sony LIV
Whatever might be the reason, Indian cinema has seen its share of successful and not-so-successful recreations and reimaginations of various battles fought by the armed forces of our country. Joining this list is Sony LIV’s latest original, Avrodh - The Siege within, a retelling of what went behind the scenes of what is popularly called India’s surgical strike in 2016.
Comparisons with Aditya Dhar’s Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019) that won quite a few National Awards, including one for its lead actor, Vicky Kaushal, are inevitable. It is too fresh in the memory for one more retelling of India’s retaliation to the Uri attacks of 2016 to fly under the radar. However, since the makers of Avrodh have taken Shiv Aroor-Rahul Singh's book, India’s Most Fearless as the source material, the depiction of the 'surgical strike' concentrates more on the academic side of the attack. The actual event is relegated to just the final few episodes. Avrodh is more about what transpired behind the scenes to motivate this kind of never-before-seen retaliation by India.
The series hits the ground running by showing how terrorists infiltrated the army camps and executed the deadly Uri attacks on that fateful night in September 2016. These episodes also showcase a soldier’s reaction to the loss of a fellow soldier. It is not everyday that we are shown soldiers breaking down. They are always hyped up to be superhuman, and so, it is humbling to see Major Raunaq Gautam (Darshan Kumar) shed more than just a drop of tear for his friend who loses his life in the attack. This humanising of the army doesn’t last long because we are soon pulled into the bureaucratic forces that determine the type of retaliation.
The moment the bureaucracy, fronted by National Security Advisor Shailesh Malviya (Neeraj Kabi), is brought into the picture, Avrodh starts to cautiously tread the thin line between propaganda and genuine retelling. There are times when it falters and tilts heavily towards one side, but such things are par for the course when the incident being told is a historic chest-thumping of the country. The bureaucracy is also represented by the ruling party, which has a bearded, jacket-wearing person as the PM (Vikram Gokhale). Except for the Prime Minister, other important members of the ministry are given names. Stage names, of course, but there is no need because one look at them and we know who they are playing.
We see the Indian government and intelligence pressurised by world leaders to drop any kind of retaliatory attack, but the mission is nevertheless okayed and we meet Major Videep Singh (Amit Sadh). Videep and his chosen group of armymen decide to take the fight to the enemies. We see a beefed-up Amit growl, shout, and occasionally smile his way through the role of the leader of the mission. Although the actual operation isn’t quite the highlight of Avrodh, the visuals are stunning. However, not showcasing the on-ground difficulties of this mission does act as a bit of a dampener. Probably, the makers felt we had Uri: The Surgical Strike to look to for this aspect of the operation.
Even when the actual operation is underway, we are more tense about the blatant red-tapism and media intrusion in this operation. In Avrodh, apart from the actual enemies across the border, the writers portray television and online media as dangerous entities. Firebrand reporter Namrata Joshi (Madhurima Tuli) is the media representative of the film, and her character arc is, in a way, a reflection of sorts of today’s mainstream television media. Avrodh paints the media with a single broad brushstroke removing any kind of nuance that could have been brought out about war reporting, fake news, and government snooping.
Obviously, a series about nationalistic pride needs to have dialogues that do justice to the theme, and since it is the ministers and bureaucrats who do most of the talking, they walk away with some plump punch lines. The soldiers are stuck with mostly perfunctory lines like, “The country owes us nothing, we owe everything to the country.”
For a series that has such dialogues and borderline jingoistic scenes peppered throughout, it is laudable that Avrodh manages to remain grounded, and thankfully, the josh this time...is just the right amount and not unnecessarily high.