For those out of the loop, Naxalbari is now an umbrella term for the movement that originally began in the eponymous village in West Bengal in the 1960s, when the police opened fire at some locals who were demanding their rights to crops on a certain piece of land. Long-time television director Partho Mitra’s cop drama takes the action to rural but modern-day Maharashtra, even if the germ of the movement in the show remains the same.
What is the story about?
In this star-studded show, Rajeev Khandelwal headlines as Agent Raghav - a capable member of the Special Task Force who, after the sudden death of his partner, finds himself held hostage by a group of radical Naxalitesm led by Binu and Prakruti, in his village of Gadchiroli. From here onwards, the show runs in two parallel timelines - one of the events leading up to his abduction, and the other of the happenings around him as he is held hostage. Once the two timelines merge, Raghav comes face-to-face with his personal demons from the past, and his relationship with Ketaki (Tina Dutta), even as the local police and the Chetna Dal try hard to retrieve him. What he unravels across the series is the Maoists’ anger towards FICA, an organization that is building a mining plant on their land.
Without going into too much detail on the historical significance of the Maoist movement in India, and its minimal representation in popular culture, it is imperative to point out that what started as a doctrine to represent the local rural population and other marginalized section in society, modern Naxalites are a rather misunderstood group. It is widely considered that their warfare, reasoning aside, has now adhered to disrupting an organized culture and damaging public property (as well as putting other groups of people in danger) in the fight to save their land. While it is commendable that such a group has been represented through the show, it is also important to give it a sensitive outlook which is somewhat absent in Naxalbari, even if the show is somewhat sympathetic to the cause.
The problem with Naxalbari, however, isn’t that it may run the risk of offending a particular socio-political allegiance, but more that it seems to be made as a television show for the web. In an era of extremely lush, slick and progressive web shows, the treatment and tone of Naxalbari seem a bit dated. Additionally, there are three major plot twists in the series that drive the story forward - the death of Raghav’s partner, the mastermind behind the Naxal’s big plan against FICA, and Raghav’s own devotion to his job. However, these are all predictable pretty much from the get-go, making the drama seem unnecessarily over-the-top and stretched out. In its nine-episode runtime, the middle of the series seems to drag along like a soap. We have a loud background score, odd jump cuts and close-ups, and unrealistic dialogue to prove it.
Goes without saying, once again, that Naxalbari is a big star-studded show. Everyone on the cast is known for their vast filmography on television. Khandelwal is reliable as ever as the stoic officer bound to duty. Shakti Anand seems to struggle a bit to fit into a show where he is allowed to curse openly, but Sreejita Dey and Satyadeep Mishra make up for that raw anger for the cause amongst the Naxalites. Aamir Ali gets a chance to shine towards the end of the season, and Narayani Shastri pitches in as a dependable supporting character. Tina Dutta plays a pivotal role as Ketaki, Raghav’s girlfriend. But while she fits the bill of his love interest, the moment her role gets meatier, we somehow start to disconnect with her body language and articulation. It is an uneven ensemble and it is unfair that the load to carry it through is on Khandelwal.
Music & Other Departments
Naxalbari has a loud score more suited to TV dramas but it has been shot well. The action scenes are also choreographed fine. There are many technical glitches that are easily visible. The screenplay needed to be tighter and more intelligent.
For an audience who misses some of their favourite high-profile television actors, it is interesting to watch them in a unique show like Naxalbari, which allows them to explore their craft further than the regular saas-bahu drama. The show starts off pretty well, using an interesting event to kickstart the entire chase through the season. The action has been choreographed rather well too.
Unfortunately, the concept and worldview are where the show’s uniqueness ends as well. Once we begin the cop drama part of the show, it is easy to predict the motives of the characters and who will turn out to be the culprits at the end. Unnecessary moments have been orchestrated to heighten the drama or create a sense of thrill in the chase and that doesn’t quite seem to come with an urgency for the audience. Most of the midline episodes are quite slow and dull, with the premiere and the finale holding some merit.
Did I enjoy it?
Not really. I was bored.
Do I recommend it?
Nope. Even nine episodes at an average of 22 minutes each sound like a lot of effort just to know who is behind the final attack against FICA, or to watch famous television stars. Avoid.