‘Avrodh: The Siege Within’ Review – At Least ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ Was Well-Polished Propaganda
Avrodh: The Siege Within is “inspired” by the September 2016 Uri attacks at the Indian Line of Control and is based on a chapter from Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh’s book India’s Most Fearless. And yet it is a pile of crap in every aspect that is trying very hard to be like the piece of propaganda that was the 2019 movie Uri: The Surgical Strike. The only good thing about it is its talented cast consisting of Amit Sadh, Neeraj Kabi, Darshan Kumaar, and more. The rest is just a painful drag!
Disclaimer: Criticism of the portrayal of a movie or show about the Indian army is not a criticism of the Indian army. Just mentioning that because some people just don’t seem to understand the difference.
I think that over one year has passed since the Aditya Dhar-directed Uri: The Surgical Strike came out and everyone’s “josh” has become a little rational now? Yes, I am talking about the pandemic and the death of the Indian soldiers at Ladakh (Just Google it). Now, can we admit for what it was, a very clear propaganda tool for the Narendra Modi government to stem our critical thinking? No? Well, it was. And since the government hasn’t done anything substantial since then, here we are with a shoddy rehash of the PM’s “masterstroke” called Avrodh: The Siege Within. Also, if criticising those in power and the ones who are supporting them hurts your feeble sentiments, I’d advise you to leave.
Avrodh is directed by Raj Acharya. It is based on the book by Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh. The script is written by Harmanjeet Singha, Sudeep Nigam, Abhishek Chaterjee, and Aadhar Khurana. The cinematography is by Shanu Singh Rajput, editing by Satya Sharma, and production design by Nikhil S. Kovale, Riddhita Mitra, Ashish Naik, Pradnya Pacharne, Varun Wadekar, and Amar Yadav. The show stars Amit Sadh, Darshan Kumaar, Madhurima Tuli, Neeraj Kabi, Ananth Mahadevan, Vikram Gokhale, Arif Zakaria, Anil George, and Mir Sarwar. The story revolves around the alleged (Yes, it allegedly happened and your sentiments don’t matter) 2016 “surgical strike” conducted by the Indian Army on Pakistani militants.
Harmanjeet, Sudeep, Abhishek, Aadhar, Shiv, and Rahul, if you had to do propaganda, at least you could’ve made it convincing.
According to Wikipedia, four militants had attacked the Indian army at Uri on September 18 and killed 19 soldiers. In response to that, the Indian Army had apparently conducted a surgical strike and killed 35-70 people. Pakistan rejected this claim and said there was only a skirmish. Then India said something. Then Pakistan said something and it was a mess. And in order to hide the fact that something was amiss i.e. the intelligence failure that led to the attack in the first place, the lack of solid information about the strike, etc. a book and a movie were made and the mainstream media went on an overdrive to drown any voice of reason. So, my first question after hearing about Avrodh was ‘why did they make it?’. After watching I understood. There’s no other disputed fact about the Prime Minister and his government to glorify.
That’s all alright. You, the writers, wanted to suck up to the Prime Minister and his party whilst turning a blind eye towards the bundles of atrocities they’ve brought upon the nation. That’s fine. That’s your choice. But y’all at least could’ve made an effort, right? Look at your elder, propaganda-loving brother, Uri: The Surgical Strike. It’s tight. The dialogues seem to be coming out of real people and its portrayal of Pakistanis was outright comical. Here you’re busy trying to make the Indians look like the humanoid version of the millions of Gods in India and trying to make the Pakistanis like James Bond villains. I mean, what the f*ck? You won’t get into his good books like that. You’ve to make it realistic enough so that the fact that it is propaganda is not absolutely obvious. Put some effort into it but make it look effortless.
Since I haven’t read the book and don’t intend to either, it’s difficult to decipher how much of the BS in Avrodh is due to Aroor and Rahul’s writing and how much of it is the script-writers’ contribution. Let’s say all of them are at fault. My question to them is that why does every single character feels like a caricature of the profession they’re supposed to represent. Every single one. Do you have any idea how a war room works or a newsroom or just a room? Going by this, I don’t think so. I am sure Aroor has some idea of a newsroom but since it is a publication that he’s looking at which puts out stuff like referring to Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide as ‘hit wicket’ and maligns a top university like JNU, I don’t know for sure how experienced he’s in the art of “good” propaganda. So, again, go learn something from Dhar.
Raj Acharya has to take a few more classes in the school of propaganda filmmaking.
Where do I begin? Oof! Where do I begin with Acharya’s direction? Alright, let’s start with the opening itself. The Indian Army in Kashmir attacks a house which has militants in them. The Indians are on a bridge. The house is on elevated terrain. One has the advantage of the higher ground. One doesn’t. In an ideal situation, this could’ve been a great opportunity for some great action, and you know, make the propaganda a little digestible. Acharya and his action directors absolutely f*ck it up royally. There’s no sense of geography. There’s no feeling of tension. The editing is all over the place. The sound design is shoddy. The VFX work is abysmal. And then it just abruptly ends. If I knew better, I would’ve been prepared for this to be repeated over and over again. But I was a little optimistic that Acharya’s not going to do that and yet he did.
I think that Acharya is best suited for TV soaps that normalise Hindutva on a daily basis, going by his lighting choices, tone, and the overall pace of a scene. Government level propaganda via OTT platforms isn’t quite his thing. At least, not yet. And that’s apparent from two things: how he treats the Indian army and the Prime Minister. Acharya thinks the Indian Army is fuck*ng flawless. They have no shades of grey. They are completely white. Well, Acharya can take off his rose-tinted glasses, do a good analysis of the Ladakh and the Kashmir situation (Just Google it), and then introspect about what he thinks of the Indian army because flawless is one thing they’re not. And he treats the Prime Minister with such reverence that it’s eye-gouging-ly dull. It’s the Prime Minister, Acharya! He’s human. Nothing more, maybe less going by his recent actions. Try to make him look like one? I don’t even want to go into the rest. It’s a waste.
But alright, maybe I can cut Acharya some slack since he isn’t as experienced in the art of propaganda as his peers. He’ll learn with time. However, what I can’t cut him slack for is, well, laziness. If he, or anyone who’s reading this, can go and look at the invasion of Indian army base camp scene and the surgical strike scene, and tell me that that’s good and the best that could’ve been done with the resources they had, I am going to increase my rating by a whole point. A whole point, yes. I don’t know how you can but I would love to see everyone try. There’s a moment where Pavail Gulati doesn’t even pull the trigger, there’s no recoil and a bullet shoots out with one of the worst muzzle flash effects on display. That’s the Indian army invasion. As for the surgical strike, the cinematography is outright garbage. The action choreography is poor. The sound design is outrageous (Some of the dubbing throughout the series is appalling). Did this come out unscrutinised?
This is the second time Darshan Kumaar is starring in a propaganda-filled IP and it is troubling. The rest of the cast’s involvement is just disappointing.
Darshan Kumaar was in the propaganda machine called PM Narendra Modi (You can read my shining review for that movie here), the Vivek Anand Oberoi led biopic and not the person, and now he’s here. What’s up with him? He’s a talented actor. Why does he need to do this?
Actually, why are any of the stars in this? They’re such great actors and here they’re just subjected to scene after scene of poorly written, poorly directed, poorly edited bullcrap. I hope it’s for money and not for their political opinions because that would be even sadder. I genuinely don’t have any complaints against the actors. They were misused. And since I know for a fact that they’re capable of pulling off incredibly complex roles, especially Sadh (He can do a good Sunny Deol impression, I guess) and Kabi (BTW keep a lookout for his fake beard that comes out of nowhere), I actually want to thank them for confirming a theory of mine: there aren’t any bad actors, just bad directors, and editors. I have a word of advise for them though. It goes something like this: Stop. Starring. In. Propaganda. Films and TV Shows!
If you’re irked by how many times I’ve used the word “propaganda” in this article instead of the number of propaganda-filled movies and TV shows that are out there, then you should get yourself checked. It’s high time. If you choose not to and you want to eat propaganda, it is fine. Do it. I’d say that join a political party and do it openly without tarnishing the artform. Heck, bring in the Prime Minister because I’ve heard he’s great at acting. That said, if you don’t and continue to poop on the sanctity of any kind of art, then be prepared for criticism because we live in the 21st century FFS. Propaganda has had its time in some bygone era. It has no place in our society now and especially in the Indian entertainment industry because it’s trying very hard to use the space it has to tell relevant stories that nobody is getting to tell due to the oppressive nature of the Government. If you try to normalise propaganda, first of all, be ashamed of yourself, and second of all, be prepared for the thrashing any kind of unresearched and gas-lighting piece of propaganda deserves.
If it isn’t clear, Avrodh: The Siege Within is one such abysmally bad piece of propaganda and has no need to exist. Watch better movies and TV shows, educate yourself, and don’t lick any establishment’s arse because it doesn’t give a damn about you.
Avrodh: The Siege Within will stream on Sony LIV from July 31.
Cover artwork by Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India