Insipid tribute to radio rebel who made waves : The Tribune India

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Insipid tribute to radio rebel who made waves

Insipid tribute to radio rebel who made waves

Sara Ali Khan, who carries Usha Mehta’s imposing figure on her shoulders, is a letdown.

Film: Ae Watan Mere Watan

Director: Kannan Iyer

Cast: Sara Ali Khan, Sachin Khedekar, Emraan Hashmi, Abhay Verma, Sparsh Shrivastav, Anand Tiwari, Aditi Sanwal, Alexx O’Neil, Benedict Garrett

Parbina Rashid

Tune into Congress Radio! But before you do, adjust your mental antenna, which in all likelihood has been set to catch the ‘How is the josh’ kind of frequency. Reset it to ‘42.34 metres’ bandwidth to absorb those ‘Do or die’ moments of 1942 in ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’.

Once it is reset would emerge the story of one of the unsung heroes from the Quit India Movement in 1942. Usha Mehta (Sara Ali Khan), inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, takes the pledge to ‘Do or die’. And to do so, she has to first fight her pro-Churchill father, Hariprasad (Sachin Khedekar). Usha, 22, has two friends, Kaushik (Abhay Verma) and Fahad (Sparsh Shrivastav), to see her through her mission.

But then the British come down heavily on the revolutionaries and the Congress party is banned. With its top leaders in jail, Usha and her friends set up an underground radio station called Congress Radio to keep the morale high. They have the backing of Congress leader Dr Ram Manohar Lohia (Emraan Hashmi). But soon, the British get to know of the underground radio and Officer John Lyre (Alexx O’Neil) is hell-bent on nipping the radio rebel in the bud. The pace soon shifts from fist-clinching sloganeering to the cat-and-mouse game, with John sniffing out radio signals with a techno-van and the rebels coming up with a trick or two to evade them.

Usha Mehta’s life and her radio station have been documented in numerous books and plays. Kannan Iyer with ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’ tries to bring alive this iconic Gandhian who was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan in 1998. Iyer departs from the existing Bollywood norm of zeroing in on only prominent historical leaders for patriotic films, and presents not just Usha Mehta, but another less cinematically exposed freedom fighter, Ram Manohar Lohia. His approach is laudable.

Though Iyer got it right picking up a story with the potential to connect even with the millennials, the execution went wrong at different levels.

Sara Ali Khan, who carries Usha’s imposing figure on her shoulders, is a letdown. She tries to look the part of a woman from the 1940s, but that effort is limited to mainly the costumes and the hairstyle. Her dialogue delivery lacks spontaneity and her body language lacks the strength of a fierce freedom fighter. Even in the initial phase, when she is torn between her love for her father and her desire to fly like the Siberian cranes she sees through the window, her act lacks conviction.

The tepid pace of the narration gets a boost with the entry of Hashmi, but his character too is made to dwell on the surface level. Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi’s character makes a one-scene appearance. It may inspire Usha to take the vow of celibacy, but does not leave the viewers with goosebumps. The only person who shines even in a half-baked role is Sparsh. As the polio-afflicted freedom fighter, this ‘Laapata Ladies’ actor looks and feels genuine.

Darab Farooqui as the screenplay writer had this challenge to infuse freshness into a plot woven with familiar facts, but his sketchy narrative and cinematographer Amalendu Choudary’s dimly-lit sets make the film no more interesting than pages of a history book. The characters mostly deliver sermons rather than converse.

Prime Video releasing this film just a day prior to ‘Savarkar’ hitting the big screens may look like Bollywood adding fuel to the real-life political binary, but ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’ is not a propaganda film, simply because it allows viewers enough ground to stay neutral. If anything, it’s guilty of being as lackluster as the present-day Congress party!

So, you can tune into Congress Radio without feeling guilty of taking sides, and just to honour the memory of the revered freedom fighter.