Director Kabir Khan said in a recent interview that while he can forgive poor filmmaking, he can never forgive poor politics. The politics of his first show as a creator, Amazon Prime’s The Forgotten Army, maybe above reproach, but the filmmaking certainly isn’t.
There were many ways in which the five-episode war drama could have gone wrong, especially in today’s volatile climate, when history can be reshaped to suit popular sentiments. But before you can heave a sigh of relief at the show not falling into the same torrent of nationalistic pride that consumed recent ‘historicals’ such as Manikarnika and Tanhaji, it drowns in its own good intentions.
The Forgotten Army, maybe above reproach, but the filmmaking certainly isn’t
Among its many faults is a narrative that merely grazes its subject without ever penetrating its depths. Also, like a poorly aimed bullet against an enemy’s skin. It honours the bravery of real heroes by reducing them to composite characters, effectively diluting their achievements by chucking in multiple storylines into the mix, in a manner that doesn’t do a single one of them any favours.
The Forgotten Army aims for the poignancy of HBO’s Band of Brothers but displays none of the patience.
For instance, a character who mocks another in episode one for being ‘the black sheep of the family’ gushes that it would be an honour for him if they’d travel to a protest together in episode three. This would a fine progression for either of them had the show taken its time in fleshing them out. But all we’re told, essentially, is that one of them is a ‘student of journalism’ with some vague idea about making a difference, and the other is a PTSD-ridden war veteran. One chill-out session and proximately 15 minutes of screen-time can’t transform their equation.
Timeline set in the past, during World War 2
Khan frames the show in two timelines, with the same character at different ages – one timeline set in the past. Also, during World War 2. However, the other is set in the late 90s – monumentally complicating an already disjointed structure. Before we can settle into one storyline. Also, we hurled across decades, once again forced to form a connection to characters we know next to nothing about. What motivates the soldier Surinder Sodhi (Sunny Kaushal), besides a strong sense of duty? Whom is he fighting for – is he a traitor or a true nationalist? A passionately delivered call to arms all it takes to rally thousands towards an uncertain cause?
For some strange reason that I can’t quite understand, Khan has shot the show with long lenses. Also, inadvertently creating a metaphorical chasm between the audience and the characters. However, as if the literal one he’d already constructed with the writing wasn’t enough. The action set-pieces have little sense of geography, robbing them of urgency and cohesion. An early battle scene meant to evoke classic Hollywood war movies resembles a playground brawl more than anything else.