The Forgotten Army Review: Kabir Khan’s Amazon Prime Video Miniseries Is Ruined by Being Bollywood -Techy24


With The Forgotten Army – the new five-part Amazon Prime Video miniseries that follows India’s national army led by Subhash Chandra Bose – creator and director Kabir Khan (Bajrangi Bhaijaan) wants to shed light on what he thinks is an unsung chapter in our history. This is not the first time that he has tackled history, after having made a six-part eponymous documentary series in 1999, which has aged badly. Khan has been trying to revisit the subject ever since, and his dream has finally come true, more than two decades later. And with decades of experience and the financial might of Amazon behind it, The Forgotten Army promises a great look at the INA, from their valiant efforts to the horrors they faced. Kind of like a Southeast Asian extension to the terrific HBO miniseries The pacific.

Unfortunately, Khan is too committed to his Bollywood ways to deliver anything remotely approaching an honest, grounded, and vivid account of the INA’s Burma campaign, as The Pacific did for the US Marines Pacific theater. The Forgotten Army – written by Khan with husband-wife duo Heeraz Marfatia (Aazaan) and Shubhra Swarup (Wazir) – is driven by the need to make its protagonists feel like the hero, no matter how unconvincing. But the much more glaring error is the constant reliance on a background song, which is sent to wake things up whenever the Amazon series lacks some fervor. (Its combination with characters walking in slow motion is even worse.) The song is used so often that we felt like turning off The Forgotten Army every time it played.

To make matters even more boring, Khan & Co. also fall prey to Bollywood’s love of grandstanding. At various points in The Forgotten Army – sometimes ridiculously in the middle of a battle – the good guys will launch into a mini-monologue to talk about their heartbreaking, righteous and powerful histories, value systems and abilities. It is the poorest type of message filming. Don’t turn your characters into loudspeakers and lecture the audience. Nobody likes to be looked down upon. People can think for themselves and should be treated as such, not like a herd of stupid sheep. Just give us a taste of what happened – remember the old movie adage: show, don’t tell – and trust viewers to figure out the rest for themselves.

Kabir Khan: “Secularism is in danger in our country”

The Forgotten Army is not a simple story. Spread across two timelines, WWII and the mid-90s — which he switches between at will, using a mixture of (poor) CGI and stock footage at times — he follows Captain Sodhi (Sunny Kaushal) who reluctantly joined the INA after British-controlled Singapore tear down to the Japanese in 1942. He retraces his journey through Burma, alongside that of the budding photojournalist Maya (Sharvari Wagh), who becomes his love. Meanwhile, in 1996 Singapore, an elderly Sodhi (MK Raina) visits his extended family, where he meets fellow budding photojournalist in his nephew Amar (Karanvir Malhotra). With Amar, who wants to document the student protests in what is now Myanmar, Sodhi returns to the country 50 years later.

Naturally, the Amazon series spends more time in the past period. The INA, aligned with the Imperial Japanese Army, took part in several major battles, including the simultaneous battle Imphal battles and Kohimaoften called the Stalingrad of the East, referring to the greatest battle of the Second World War. But with the exception of the Battle of Singapore, The Forgotten Army shows little care in describing the various events, even though it wants us to know about the INA. What we are left with instead are fourth wall-breaking moments disguised as dialogues — “India will one day remember our sacrifice,” Sodhi says — designed to cling to itself. You shouldn’t have to assert your own relevance to tell the audience why it matters. If people are watching, most of them already care.

As part of its position of self-prominence, the Forgotten Army strives to have an all-female combat unit called the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. (Maya is one of them.) For what it’s worth, it’s worth talking about gender discrimination when it comes to the Indian military, all the more so in a period of almost eight decades when the new leader of India’s defense is still believed women are not cut out for combat roles. But The Forgotten Army shoots itself in the foot, unfortunately. He first asserts that women have never been trained and sent to fight before by any country. Fact Check: Both Russia and Spain [PDF] did it in front of the INA. The Amazon series’ biggest fault, however, is how it undermines its own point of view by never actually showing Maya or any of the other women in combat.

Kabir Khan on The Forgotten Army: ‘I don’t subscribe to the British point of view’

the forgotten army sharvari the forgotten army

Sharvari Wagh as Maya in The Forgotten Army
Photo credit: Amazon India

The Forgotten Army is also plagued by lackluster, inconsistent, and unrefined cinematography across the board. Primarily, the show suffers from tonal dissonance, as it oscillates between melancholy, celebration, heartbreak, romance, thrilling, situational comedy, and heartfelt drama at will, with jarring results and little flow to the narrative. Speaking of bad writing, it gets into some troubling territory with gender politics and patriarchy. On one occasion, a sexist trainee officer is called out by a woman, who is later praised for overcoming her prejudices as the woman does not rebuke his romantic advances. Hello, it’s not a woman’s job to fix a man. Elsewhere, Sodhi, whom Maya teaches a feminist lesson, is later applauded for simply echoing her words in public. Can we please stop celebrating men for doing the bare minimum?

Also, the characters make stupid decisions for the sake of the plot, or their dialogue is more audience-facing. (Speaking of bad exposition, Shah Rukh Khan is briefly employed as a narrator, but that’s entirely unnecessary as he recaps the previous episode to remind you of what’s going on.) The direction isn’t always solid, some scenes lacking focus or proper structure. to communicate what they are trying to achieve. In other places, Khan goes into exaggerated mode to convey a character’s heightened emotions. It’s just not necessary to play everything at this point. Realism is also an issue with many of his haphazardly executed and filmed war scenes, the only intention of which seems to be to showcase INA bravado. (Thankfully, the action is saved from the overall poor CGI quality as it looks practically shot.)

This may be directly related to The Forgotten Army’s claim that the Indians were the only smart ones. Early on, as the British prepared for the Japanese attack on Singapore from the southeast, Sodhi warned them of the threat from the north. But the British put it down. Predictably, the Japanese are doing what Sodhi predicted. Yet the Indians, then working for the British, keep the outnumbered Japanese at bay, only for the foolish British to sign a truce. Later, as the INA advanced into Burma, the Japanese suspended the attack while they devised a strategy. Again, it is Sodhi who warns them of the impending threat of the monsoon. Predictably, the Japanese aren’t listening and are paying the price. The Forgotten Army also demonizes the other, be it the British or the Japanese, to give the Indians the moral upper hand.

The Forgotten Army's Battle of Singapore The Forgotten Army

The British War Room during the Battle of Singapore in The Forgotten Army
Photo credit: Amazon India

And there is no need to bother with that. Colonialism by its nature, including the British variety, is evil by nature. But The Forgotten Army doesn’t really know how to move the conversation forward. In one scene, Sodhi wonders if the Indians were blind or stupid in treating Britain as their nation, given their previous allegiance? This is a reductive argument. If he was truly interested in looking inward rather than outward, Khan & Co. could have done well to meet Bose’s values. The INA continues to recite its famous words, but its presence is so minimal that The Forgotten Army feels a little whitewashed, especially since Bose tenuous socialist authoritarian views and work with the fascists. It would also have allowed him to talk about how the INA was used by the Axis powers for his gain.

Where The Forgotten Army does slightly better is with the uncanny parallels to what is happening in India today. As the INA reaches the Indian mainland, they come up against fellow countrymen fighting Indians fighting for a free India. Later, during the INA’s Red Fort Trials, a British Indian officer discredits the prisoners by calling them traitors for siding with the Japanese. Unfortunately, this vision of the INA persisted after independence, governments deny [page 132] their freedom fighter pension. And then there are the Burmese students who are campaigning for democracy. The parallels are naturally unintended, but they are relevant and seem prescient. One wonders if Khan would have expanded on these topics if The Forgotten Army had been written in 2020.

But that can’t save a show that doesn’t master the fundamentals. Even with those aforementioned parallels, The Forgotten Army concludes them with a dialogue on the nose of old Sodhi: “The struggle for freedom was ours. The fight to preserve this freedom is yours. It shouldn’t be necessary to spell it out, it’s the pictures’ job to convey it. Khan thinks the INA deserves better treatment. Well, they deserve a better series too.

The Forgotten Army is now available on Amazon Prime Video worldwide.

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