3.5 Very Good

Red Alert – The War Within

After unwittingly finding himself in a Naxal-police crossfire, a poor rural cook, Narasimha (Suneil Shetty) is forcibly taken into the Naxalite fold. While teaching him the use of weapons and ambush techniques, they also attempt to indoctrinate him with their ideology—‘the people’s cause’.

For those unclear how Naxalism is different from terrorism, the red-soldiers inform us, ‘While terrorism is a war against the country, Naxalism is a war against the system’.

Narasimha is simple minded, and is not interested in their ideology. He believes that because he is working, he must get paid. He whines and begs for his menial wages from the group leader Velu (Ashish Vidhyarthi) . Velu, angered that Narasimha will not rise above his petty needs in their fight for the common man, treats him badly.

The irony that Narasimha is the very person they are fighting for becomes irrelevant in this war.

Veteran filmmaker, Aruna Raje, who gave us some gritty work in the 1980’s, including the spine-chilling ‘Gehrayee’, weaves a bold screenplay, competently directed by actor-director Anant Mahadevan. Mahadevan re-creates a stark, parallel world of red-saluting, ‘peoples’ soldiers in dense forests; Images that the urban viewer maybe unaccustomed to seeing.

Unlike Mani Rathnam’s recent offering, ‘Raavan’, where the rebels had no cause and no name, Red Alert’s Naxals are not afraid to be called Naxals. They are ideological warriors-- compassionate towards the needy and with fire in their bellies. But these Naxals are also human beings-- prone to emotions like love, lust and jealousy and sometimes even a greed for power. Raje & Mahadevan walk a sensitive tightrope and remain neutral-- not glorifying, nor demonizing the Naxals.

Mahadevan uses a strong ensemble of actors well. While Seema Biswas, Ehsaan Khan, Sunil Sinha and Ayesha Dharker are extremely believable as Andhra Naxalites, it is Suneil Shetty’s sincere and subdued performance that touches the heart. It seems like the powerful subject and strong characterization may have somewhat awoken Shetty from his acting inertia. Without resorting to textbook histrionics, he compels you to believe his character. Vinod Khanna puts in a sharp performance as Naxal veteran Krishna Raj, as does Makrand Deshpande as Raghavan, the opportunistic journalist.

Scenes like the gun-toting Naxals negotiating with land owners for better farmer wages reveal the Robin Hoodesque nature of the beast, but some other ideas are too simplistic.

Take the discovery of a traitor within the group. The suspicious leader tracks the disloyal member by finding a police identity card in the camp; too easy and too silly. Sameera Reddy as Lakshmi, looks the part of a poor Andhra girl who is raped brutally by cops before being adopted by the Naxals. But she struggles unconfidently in what could have been a brilliant intimate scene between her and the tormented Narasimha.

Also, missing links in Krishna Raj’s character take the awe factor of the films poignant climax. How the feared leader is moved by the common man’s story to change his perception may seem confusing and is weakly explained.

Nevertheless, if you forgive the films flaws owing to its complicated subject, ‘Red Alert’s’ novel climax, offers a fitting and humanistic solution to the war within.

A brilliantly crafted scene to watch out for is the one where the Naxals act on a tip that the cops are hiding their weapons in a village school. In spite of the group’s worries regarding the safety of the children during the ambush, Velu orders them to go ahead. As bullets fly and Naxal women attempt to take the children to safety, Narasimha struggles to protect the children. The effect of this incident on Narasimha’s psyche is haunting and forms the turning point in the story.

We may display considerable apathy towards the Naxal & Maoist war in India. We may even cock a snoot at the political process, resulting in a murky understanding of such issues. Yet, it may be impossible to hide from the truth when we see Narasimha's point of view. He is neither a Naxalite, nor is he the state. He is just another poor man, struggling to protect and feed his family. How can you feed ideology to an empty stomach?

Many of us would rather see this issue as just a newspaper headline, but I suggest you don’t ignore this laudable cinematic effort. ‘Red Alert’ attempts to shine a beacon to end the cancerous wars that are being fought inside our country.