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Naxalbari review: A decent attempt to expose the root cause of Maoism and its impact on people

Release Date: 28 Nov 2020

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Suyog Zore

The nine-episode series tries to do a balancing act by portraying both sides of the conflict with sincerity. However, the writers refrain from depicting the Naxal issue in all its complexity.

Naxalbari, which is centred on a five-decade-old conflict between the Indian government and Maoists, dwells on the cyclical nature of violence. Whenever we switch on news channels we often see the news about clashes between the Indian Armed Forces and Naxalites. But we hardly think about why adivasis pick up the gun and what are their demands. Are they terrorists who only desire to unleash violence on innocent citizens, as portrayed by most Indian news channels, or are they victims of injustice that is meted out to them in the name of development? 

In the series, tension brews between the Maharashtra government and Naxalites as the state government has allowed a private multinational corporation, FICA, to a set up mining plant in the resource-rich forests of Gadchiroli. The locals are naturally opposed to this, but the government pays them no heed, which forces them to resort to violent means. Things escalate beyond the control when Naxalites blasts the convoy of a state minister.

The Special Task Force (STF), headed by Raghav Joshi (Rajeev Khandelwal), is then called upon to curb the menace but during his investigation layers of conspiracies and vested interests are uncovered. On the one hand, the CEO of FICA, Keswani (Aamir Ali), is using his power and influence to discredit the Naxalite movement using the media and all other means at his disposal, whereas Naxal leader Pahan (Satyadeep Mishra) and Binu (Shakti Anand) have something up their sleeves. 

Pulkit Rishi and Prakhar Vihaan's screenplay is filled with twists and turns, some of which some catch you completely off guard and some you see from miles away. But despite the occasional predictability, you don't lose interest in the series, and that's the hallmark of good writing. It also helps that this particular subject has not been explored by mainstream media and the novelty of the subject keeps you hooked. The writers have tried to do a balancing act by showing both sides of the conflict. We get to see how the a government, which in cahoots with industrialists, tries to rob poor adivasis from their land. It also highlights the sorry state of Indian media, which has become completely pro-establishment and labels everyone who dares question the government anti-nationals and Naxal sympathizers. There is also some clever commentary on the burgeoning casteism in recent times. The writers have also presented the other side of the coin by depicting how violence only begets violence.

Some bold choices are made throughout the series that make you want to rate it higher but it falls short of delivering the desired impact.

Partho Mitra's direction is standard. He focuses more on action than the characters' emotions. We are never really certain about what's going on inside their heads and we are always kept in dark with regard to their intentions. 

Except for Khandelwal's Raghav Joshi, the characters are severely underdeveloped. His live-in partner Ketaki (Tina Dutta) has a very important role in the series but her character hardly makes any impact. Even Khandelwal's subordinates, played by Sainkeet Kamat and Harish Dudhane, are caricatures. The Naxals also get the same treatment. Apart from their ideology, we get no information about their background. Who they are? Why did they join this movement? The series provides no answers,  because of which we don't feel their frustration and anger towards the system.

In fact, since it is impossible to connect with either side on an emotional level, which would have made things even more interesting, the viewer is left to sympathise with Joshi or the extremists on the basis of his or her ideology. Both sides, however, operate in grey areas and have flaws in their ideologies and approach. Also, writers refrain from depicting the Naxal issue in all its complexity. The show deals with the matter on the surface level and tries to make up for it with some thrilling moments. There are some foot chases and hand-to-hand combat sequences. Although generic, the stunts and combat scenes are fairly realistic. 

At nine episodes that span about 25 minutes, the web-series doesn't waste much time on subplots. The editing by Kshitija Khandagale is also innovative. Each episode starts in medias res and then it is revealed how exactly we reached that point. Initially, this stylistic choice draws your attention, but because the editor uses this technique in every episode, it loses its charm. 

Another big issue that almost ruins your viewing experience is the atrocious dubbing. Most of the supporting cast's dialogues have been dubbed by voice artists and they have done a horrendous job. First of all, they haven't even bothered to see if the voice even matches the artist. Sometimes an old actor mouths lines that sound were dubbed by a much younger artist. Also, the voice artists have made no effort to capture the emotion of the scene and have delivered their dialogues in a completely dry monotone which ruins all the hard work the actors have put in to portray their characters. 

But despite all these issues, Naxalbari is an honest attempt to show the viewpoint of both sides of the conflict.

The show is being streamed on Zee5.

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