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‘Unheard’ Telugu web series review: Conversations on political history

Chandini Chowdary and Baladitya in ‘Unheard’  

The term binge-watching has become synonymous with the way web series are consumed. Driven by the curiosity to know what happens next, episodes after episodes, and seasons after seasons are consumed. But what if a series is stripped of cinematic frills and tries to whet our appetite for political history, leaving us debating on conflicting viewpoints? The Telugu web series Unheard, streaming on Disney+ Hotstar, follows a conversational format; some of the episodes resemble a staged theatre production. Ideology-laced dialogues and the actors that speak them ensure that there’s drama.

 

Unheard
  • Cast: Chandini Chowdary, Ajay, Priyadarshi, Srinivas Avasarala, Baladitya
  • Direction: K V Aditya
  • Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar

The six episodes present different ideologies from the early 1900s to 1950 that shaped India’s freedom struggle. In the first episode, Dr Chalapathi (Baladitya) flaunts his stylish coat stitched by John Burton tailoring unit in Secunderabad. He also talks about hobnobbing at Secunderabad Club and doesn’t think much of India’s fight against colonial rule. The woman listening to him, Padma (Chandini Chowdary) is dressed in a khadi sari; she tries to make him see the big picture — that the administration is spending only a fraction on infrastructure and that we, Indians, stand to gain a lot more by being independent. This is 1920, after the Spanish Flu (1918) has wreaked havoc across the country and common people have witnessed British apathy during the pandemic.

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Unheard is fiction inspired by history; it is as much about Hyderabad as it is about India. As one of the characters points out, different people chose different methods to reach the same destination — independent India.

The conversational face-off between Padma who believes in the non-violent movement and Dr Chalapathi sets the tone for episodes to come. They are civil in their disagreement but stand firm in their ideologies.

It took me some effort to get past the minimalistic and a stage-like presentation. But I often found myself making mental notes of historical events discussed, wanting to read up more.

In the next episode, we are introduced to Mallesh (Ajay), who was part of the British-Indian army in Europe during World War I; having seen enough bloodshed, he now believes in Mahatma Gandhi’s ahimsa. His face-off is with Badri (Priyadarshi), who sees no qualms in taking up arms.

A considerable weight of making Unheard engaging, apart from the writing, rests on the shoulders of the actors. Priyadarshi makes it look effortless, as though the ideology he speaks about has been his way of life. Ajay brings in the maturity required for his role of a war veteran, while Srinivas Avasarala treads a new zone in the portions focusing on the happenings in Hyderabad that ultimately led to the princely state’s annexure to independent India. Chandini, Baladitya and Anand Chakrapani as the jailor are also adequate in their performances.

Historical references are strewn throughout, from the Chauri Chaura incident to the contribution of Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu to Telugu cinema. The early tricolour designed by Pingali Venkaiah makes an appearance at an appropriate moment during the conversation between Badri and Dr Chalapathi, in a later episode. Chalapathi is now aligned to the non-violent freedom struggle. We learn the passing of another character and Badri’s own turn of fate. At a time when freedom fighters were unsure of enjoying the fruits of independence, what gave them the courage to continue their fight? Unheard tries to find answers.

Unheard also looks at the effect of the Quit India Movement of 1942, the World War II, the role of the Indian National Army, Salt Satyagraha and the Bengal famine in pre-independent India.

The series is tightly edited, with episodes ranging from 18 to 27 minutes. It isn’t entertaining in a conventional sense but takes the liberty of using the digital platform to put forth ideas and conversations that aren’t feasible in mainstream entertainment. That, in itself, is appreciable.


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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 4:04:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/reviews/unheard-telugu-web-series-review-priyadarshi-srinivas-avasarala-ajay-chandini-and-baladitya-lend-gravitas-to-conversations-set-in-india-during-the-freedom-struggle/article36510931.ece

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