Bastar: The Naxal Story

Bastar: The Naxal Story
Bastar: The Naxal Story
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The premise of Sudipto Sen’s Bastar: The Naxal Story is dark, gory, gritty and violent since this book aims to bring out the visceral chapters of Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in the district of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Though the makers deserve applause for describing painstakingly well an agonizing past of Bastar, they ambiguously try to pin the blame elsewhere. This then weakens the grim and mournful plight of those who have witnessed the bloodshed firsthand. However, that being said, it is a very well made film with all the alleged conspiracies sneakily placed between scenes and dialogues which might leave you shell-shocked in several places.

Shilpa Shukla plays Neelam Nagpal while Utpal Trivedi played by Yashpal Sharma both play each other in a court setting that begins at a fever pitch. From onset it is shown that Adah Sharma’s character (IPS Neerja Bhargava) is accused by Shilpa Shukla’s fictitious character of carrying out extra-judicial encounters against innocent tribal and dragging reputed author Raima Sen (Vanya Roy) into suspicion as an outsider conspirator in Naxalite violence. At this point Yashpal Sharma also argues in defense of Neerja but he feels overwhelmed by Shilpa Shukla’s argumentation.

At some corner village within Bastar district there are people belonging to tribes hoisting their National flag on Independence Day. They get ambushed by some Naxals who take away Milind Kashyap (played by Subrata Dutta), his wife Ratna (played by Indira Tiwari) along with his son and daughter. They are led through thick forests into a guerilla camp ruled over by Comrade Reddy (played by Vijay Krishna) who leads them accompanied with another equally brutal female leader. The camp itself is portrayed as a hotbed of insurrection and training, where there are sophisticated ammo and other resources considered crucial.

The Naxals put Milind on what seems like an unconstitutional tribunal for hoisting the National flag as well as being an informer to IPS Neerja Bhargava. This leads to a gruesome and grotesque execution of Milind where Reddy axes one of his hands and then proceeds to brutally mutilate him in front of his ululating wife and his traumatized daughter. They also take away his son who appears influenced by one of Reddy’s speeches.

Ratna, Milind’s wife who has been fuelled by revenge, picks herself up with some motivation from Neerja Bhargava and pledges to eliminate the cold blooded murderers of her husband. Consequently, this begins not just a fierce battle between the military and the Naxals but also certain proxies conveying their collaboration with the extremist group.

Between fiction and real life Bastar: The Naxal Story tries to find its balance but ends up being a hodgepodge of conspiracies. In one scene, Narayan Bagchi who is later revealed to be a distinguished professor of a college can be seen exhorting Raima Sen’s character to infiltrate academicians’ circles as well as Bollywood with left extremism ideologies.

Another part is equally offensive in its depiction of a university that resembled New Delhi. The video makers use a parody-like music to assert that this university and its students are celebrating the horrific killing of 76 Jawans by naxals in Dantewada. To increase their depravity even further, one of the students refers to the slain Jawans as dogs while others remain clapping with placards.

Adah Sharma’s character is also guilty of blatant targeting as she interrupts herself at the end of the film to deliver an uncontrollable monologue about how she would choose to shoot down left-liberals without facing capital punishment. Some might say it is just a passionate cop’s line but this kind of thing sets a very wrong example.

The directors have added too much unnecessary gore to some scenes which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Though I do not get why it was done, this macabre fascination with grisly representation suggests there is an element of voyeurism in this narrative. Once, we watched an insurgent pick up a baby girl and throw her onto a burning rooftop whose screams grew fainter amidst the roaring flames. Such disturbing scenes fill up this film and they are countless.

However, performances from actors such as Adah Sharma, Yashpal Sharma, Shilpa Shukla, Raima Sen, Purnendu Bhattacharya etc constitute one major takeaway from Bastar: The Naxal Story. Each has done their job well specifically Adah Sharma and Vijay Krishna. In every area from action sequences to cinematography and VFX till locations it is excellent production quality movie. There is also emotional heft between Ratna and her son. There are instances when tribals have no choice but play off both police officers and insurgents caught between them thereby pounding them under pressure.

But overall, Sudipto Sen’s directorial debut falls flat mostly because this film lacks originality or structure towards the Naxalite insurgency in Bastar and everything from its wandering narrative that has little to offer except shock value and gore.

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