Friday, February 18, 2011

Red Alert: The War Within

My first thought when I switched off the DVD player after watching
Red Alert: The War Within was, “Why wasn’t Sameera Reddy nominated for Best Actress at all the awards events?” Her raw portrayal of a troubled woman was certainly more engaging and required more skill than anything Kajol or Bebo did this year. But that is how the game of filmi politics is played, I suppose.

Red Alert: The War Within is a small film. It’s the story of a humble cook Narasimha, (Suniel Shetty), and a village girl, Laxmi (Sameera Reddy), who get swept up into the Naxalite movement against their will. Each reacts differently to the situation and the two run parallel to each other until tragic events tie their fates together. Director Anant Mahadevan roots his film in the sober parallel cinema style of the 1970s and 1980s, to the extent of including a welcome cameo from Naseeruddin Shah. The politics are earnest and characters speak in impassioned monologues. Yet, there was something really compelling about Narasimha and Laxmi’s struggles. The complicated human element was never lost in the storytelling.

Of course, a film like this isn’t for all audiences. It’s not an entertainer by any stretch of the imagination and while cameos from actors like Naseer, Vinod Khanna, and Gulshan Grover add a bit of
filmi razzle-dazzle, the real strength of Red Alert is in the quiet vignettes from the Naxalite camp and the quiet performances from the actors.

The benefit of seeing a film a few months after its release is that I can go and read all the other reviews before writing my own. In this case, the general consensus of the Western reviewers is that the film is unrealistic and dull while the Indian reviewers generally liked it but found some elements too subtle. You can guess which side I lean towards (*hint* I didn’t think the film was dull at all.) The one thing I was really surprised at was that not a single reviewer thought to compare
Red Alert to the other guerilla warfare film out in 2010 - Raavanan. They are as opposite as two films about rebel forces fighting for the rights of a community against the tyrany of the state can be.

Raavanan and Red Alert are both anchored by beefy action heroes but Suniel Shetty minimizes his stature as Narasimha. He becomes meek. I hadn’t realized how fully Suniel had sunk into his character until a scene when Narasimha is in a physical confrontation. It never occured to me that a typical Suniel Shetty character would bash his way out - Narasimha just couldn’t, despite having the same gym sculpted physique. Where Veeru is furious with society, Narasimha doesn’t know enough about it to have an opinion. His world is small and he cares only about the people who enter into it.

And Laxmi is action-oriented, no passive waiting for rescue here. She takes charge of the circumstances life has thrown at her and makes the best of them. With the Naxalites, men and women are more or less equal - and it's surprisingly shocking to see the women in their fatigues, shooting their guns. Even for me. Anybody complaining about the lack of good roles for women in Bollywood will appreciate Laxmi and her fellow Naxalites.

I can't really comment on the politics of the film beyond saying that the message we are left with is that violence is a never-ending cycle and the police often abuse their power. These are things we would do well to remember. The Naxalites are sympathized with to an extent but they will never be allowed to win using violence. And Narasimha just stumbles right into the middle of everything.

Red Alert isn't a great film but it has some very good elements to it. If you are in the mood for something quiet and contemplative - with bursts of Vinod and Naseer - then you could do worse than putting Red Alert into your DVD player.

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Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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