‘Bastar: The Naxal Story’ movie review: Same story, new villain

After ‘The Kerala Story’, director Sudipto Sen trains his gun on Maoist insurgency with a film that is high on decibels, low on nuance

March 15, 2024 06:22 pm | Updated 06:58 pm IST

Adah Sharma in ‘Bastar: The Naxal Story’

Adah Sharma in ‘Bastar: The Naxal Story’

Building on the template of The Kerala Story that worked for the makers at the box office, director Sudipto Sen raises another provocative issue in an even more hostile tone. Where it was the alleged forced conversion of young girls to Islam by Muslim terror organisations in Kerala in his last film, in Bastar he attempts to expose the motives behind the Naxal violence with a long list of conspiracy theories.

It promises to be an eye-opener but after sitting through two hours of diatribes against communism, one finds that yet again Sen’s cinema is meant to keep the eyes of only those suffering from narrow-sightedness open.

Made with the skill of a social media influencer whose allegiance is to the brand, the film adopts a sledgehammer approach to influence the so-called ecosystem in favour of the ruling dispensation and help set the narrative in the election season. The narrative demands a new villain, the film delivers one.

After spurring Islamophobia, he fulminates against the left-leaning activists working in the region who, the makers believe, have kept the media, Bollywood, and even the judiciary under their spell for a long time. The writers use several real-life events, including the massacre of 76 soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force, and then give them a dramatic spin. The film compares the Maoist insurgency to Islamic State and Boko Haram and draws links between the Naxal leadership and Lashkar-e-Toiba, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and Filipino communists.

Bastar: The Naxal Story (Hindi)
Director: Sudipto Sen
Cast: Adah Sharma, Yashpal Sharma, Raima Sen, Naman Jain, Kishore Kadam
Run-time: 124 minutes
Storyline: Based on real-life incidents, the film follows the struggle of a police officer in countering the Maoist insurgency

In the disclaimer, the makers say that they are not against any ideology but for the next two hours, they paint communism in a negative light and defend the controversial Salwa Judum, a militia drawn by politician Mahendra Karma (Rajendra Karma in the film) from local populace to counter Maoists in the region. It even goes on to question the judiciary’s decision against arming one set of citizens against the other. Marked by lazy generalisations, Bastar suggests that the conflict can only be silenced by the bullet.

Set in the first decade of the new millennium, Bastar rightly questions the motive of political masters and activists behind keeping the Maoist insurgency alive. However, there is no reflection of the corporate interest in denuding the tribal habitat nor does it put the politicians that serve their purpose in the dock.

As it is easier to numb the senses with scenes of graphic violence and earth-shattering background score, the makers use the weapon of manipulation to make the target audience submit to the one-sided narrative. There is a lot of detailing in the scenes of blood and gore but when it comes to understanding the socio-political and psychological context of the conflict, the film scores a cipher. It feels like a crude visual representation of a collection of WhatsApp forwards where a soldier’s sacrifice is deliberately dropped to win a conversation. The name of a central university has been beeped out but it could be easily made out who and what is at the target.

As for the cinematic experience, police officer Neerja Madhavan (Adah Sharma) represents the director’s voice. “I don’t like people who complain and explain. I want results, Period,” she declares. She keeps looking for a target to shoot at and when she doesn’t find one, she shoots her mouth off.

Adah plays the character with the giddy energy of a blind supporter that we see around us. During the interval, we are shown the trailer of The UP Files starring Mohan Joshi as the UP Chief Minister. After the show, some YouTubers masquerading as film critics could be heard ending their reviews with the cry of Jai Hind.

Bastar: The Naxal Story is currently running in theatres

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