An adaptation of the chapter We Don’t Really Know Fear from Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh’s book India’s Most Fearless, Avrodh: The Siege Within is a nine-part series covering the terrorist attack on the Indian Army base at Uri in Kashmir, and the Indian forces’ subsequent retaliation with the famed surgical strike on targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK).
The tale revisited
Avrodh begins rather promisingly. Indian military forces ambush a wedding celebration in a Kashmiri village and eliminate a high-value target, Bilawal Wani (fictional equivalent of militant commander Burhan Wani). Not only does the sequence make for a compelling watch, it is also a reflection of what life in the region has become thanks to its unending crisis.
This is, however, as far as the series goes in depicting the woes of Kashmir and its people. From here, the show is largely a portrayal of the good versus the bad. About how Pakistan-sponsored terrorists infiltrated the Indian Army base in Uri and put many of our soldiers to death. And how the Indian special forces heroically responded and came out unscathed from with what was basically a suicide mission. This would’ve been fine if it hadn’t already been done before in a film that found a lot of success at the box office.
Offering more to the story than the Vicky Kaushal-starrer Uri – The Surgical Strike was always going to be Avrodh‘s biggest challenge, especially when the latter has a considerably higher running time. Unfortunately the show largely treads along the same lines. Shailesh Malviya (a praiseworthy performance by Neeraj Kabi) is the country’s National Security Advisor, a more eccentric and less statesman-like avatar of Ajit Doval. He isn’t a fan of diplomatic dialogue, bears no love for stone pelters and is hell bent on proving to the world that India isn’t just the land of Mahatma Gandhi, but also that of Subhash Chandra Bose. Then there’s the more rational Satish Mahadevan (Ananth Mahadevan), the Secretary of Defence who cares about diplomatic repercussions. We also get fictional equivalents of India’s cabinet ministers, all of which feels very similar to Uri. Kaushal’s Vihaan Shergill from the film is essentially split into two characters in the series. The first is Major Raunaq Gautam (Darshan Kumaar) of the Bihar regiment, who is present at Uri during the attack and watches his best mate get killed. The other is Major Videep Singh (Amit Sadh) of the special forces, who spearheads the surgical strike.
The camerawork captures the essence of Kashmir beautifully, from its breathtaking landscape to its villages. The action sequences too, both sniping and ground assault, are wonderfully orchestrated. Amit Sadh’s stock as an actor has been on the rise lately. Some of the show’s finer moments revolve around the easy camaraderie that he shares with his men. The contingent spending 17 hours in hiding after infiltrating POK makes for one of the most gripping few minutes of the show.
The presence of an accomplished cast helps. Vikram Gokhale essays among the better portrayals of the prime minister in recent memory. Darshan Kumaar though is a tad unconvincing at times, especially while expressing anguish. Arif Zakaria makes an impression with a cameo as the security council officer entrusted with carrying out an inquiry on the Uri security failure. Anil George is daunting as Abu Hafeez, the cold-eyed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) commander who masterminded the Uri attack.
Among the few new elements introduced to the story is Namrata Joshi (Madhurima Tuli), a “nosy” journalist with a knack of sniffing out the most obscure of stories. Her storyline is possibly the only thought-provoking segment in the show, presenting a conflict between freedom of press on one hand and national interest on the other. Another topic touched upon is infighting on the other side of the border. Two militant groups, the JeM and the Hizbul Mujahideen, are battling for supremacy in POK, though this is largely inconsequential to the broader plot. There is also an attempt on the makers’ part to show how the Indian government tackled international pressure (by ‘international’ we mean American), but the same is dealt with rather abruptly. This would have made for interesting viewing if it had been elaborated further. It also doesn’t help that Praveena Deshpande, who plays the external affairs minister, struggles to pull off the late Sushma Swaraj‘s calming and assured persona.
The same old recipe
Avrodh has clearly been made as an ode to the Indian Army. There is an evident wave of hyperbolic nationalism in the country today and the makers have tried to capitalise on that. In the process we are abundantly served with the same, worn out dialogues about love for the motherland, courage and sacrifice. Lauding the army isn’t the worst idea, but a fresh, more subtle approach by the writers would have been nice. Even from a politically neutral standpoint, lines such as the ones declaring the current PM as not a “regular politician” and unlike any of his predecessors feel extremely tacky. It is due to uninspiring writing such as this that Avrodh doesn’t quite stand out from the multitude of army films made in Bollywood over the years.
WATCH OR NOT
Despite competent performances and slick action scenes, Avrodh: The Siege Within doesn’t manage to add more substance to an already touched upon topic, and ends up being another run-of-the-mill tribute to the Indian Army.
Director: Raj Acharya
Writers: Shiv Aroor and Raj Singh (book), Harmanjeet Singha, Sudeep Nigam, Abhishek Chatterjee, Aadhar Khurana
Cast: Neeraj Kabi, Vikram Gokhale, Amit Sadh, Darshan Kumar, Ananth Mahadevan, Madhurima Tuli, Anil George
Streaming on: SonyLIV