Anandi Gopal And The Forgotten Army-Azaadi Ke Liye: Two OTT Gems You May Have Missed

Here's looking at two OTT gems you may have missed - Anandi Gopal and The Forgotten Army-Azaadi Ke Liye

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Anandi Gopal And The Forgotten Army-Azaadi Ke Liye: Two OTT Gems You May Have Missed
ANANDI GOPAL (Zee5, Marathi): On March 11, 1886 Anandbai Gopal Joshi held her degree as India’s first female doctor as her proud husband whistled with joy. I have no words to thank director Sameer Vidhwans for bringing this story to us. And that too in such a beautifully told love story between a child bride and her widower-husband, 20 years her senior, determined to educate her.

Anandi Gopal is a charming, irresistible instant classic with a huge takeaway value. It tells us that gender equality is possible only when the feeling of social progress is mutual. It’s not enough for a husband to want his wife to break the glass ceiling. The lady has to have it within her too. Initially. Anandi (an absolutely charming natural-born Bhagyashree Milind) just wants to keep her sullen obstinate husband happy. She takes his bullying in her stride .And goes along with his obstinacy to educate her. The scenes between the underage wife and the reformist somewhat pompous husband are done with tremendous empathy. Given the charming writing, natural performances and sun-kissed cinematography (by Akash Aggarwal) it didn’t take me long to fall in step with Anandi’s husband Gopalrao’s ambition to see his wife become a doctor.

This is the late 19th century British India where the only fire that burns in a woman’s heart is the one in the pyre. So then who is this Marathi self-styled avatar of Raja Ram Mohan Roy who tells the smirking panchayat, “Why only educate my wife? If my (widowed) mother-in-law wants to wear a coloured saree I will personally buy it for her.” That “mother-in-law” angle is another brilliant plot point. The lady Gopal is talking about is not Anandi’s mother. She was his first wife’s mother and now she has taken charge of Anandi, Gopal, and his son from his first marriage. It is the good fortune of this powerful mother-in-law’s character that she is played by the ever-dependable Geetanjali Kulkarani. Does she ever disappoint?! Watch her in that sequence where she hands over her dead daughter’s jewelry to her son-in-law for his second wife’s medical education abroad.

“My first daughter is helping my second daughter,” she says tearfully.

I have to confess I wept through several moments of what I’d call Pure Cinema in this artless all-heart-no-gimmicks bio-pic. By the time, Anandi gets her doctor’s degree in Pennsylvania and her husband proudly shouts, “She is from India” at the convocation I was out of my seat clapping and sobbing.

This is a simply warmly told story of a historic woman that had to be told especially at a time when bio-pics are being made on scumbags, gangsters and scamsters. A lot of the credit for the film’s captivating credibility goes to the lead pair. Both Lalit Prabhakar and Bhagyashree Milind are first-rate. Lalit especially as the bullying obdurate husband who swears he will make a doctor out of his wife even if its kills him, is outstanding. His determination is so well-mapped on his resolute face, it is like watching a movement rather than an individual’s battle against bigotry.

THE FORGOTTEN ARMY - AZAADI KE LIYE (Amazon Prime Video): The sheer volume of emotional and physical distance, which Kabir Khan covers in the five episodes of this homage to the soldierly valour of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s breakaway army, is mind boggling. But then Kabir is no stranger to impossible challenges. In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, he actually made Salman Khan ACT. Remember?

There is a gallery of competent actors surrendering to their characters, not unlike the Indian POW in this film who lay down their weapons before the Japanese in the hope that their country would be freed of British rule through the new alliance.

The politics of The Forgotten Army is complex. Kabir Khan doesn’t shy away from biting into those bitter politics of a time when Gandhi was God, and self-governance was a religion. By exploring the most neglected subsidiary of the Indian Freedom Movement - the contribution of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army (INA) - this spellbinding series weaves a web of unforgettable images.

The battle sequences are to die for, in a manner of speaking. I was especially awestruck by the sequence where a young Indian girl Rasamma (TJ Bhanu) is chased down by a Gora soldier and brutally raped, when suddenly hundreds of Japanese soldiers descend on bicycles peddling with a passion that indicates determination.

A determined vision embraces Kabir Khan’s narrative. He negotiates his plot through two different time zones. In one, young soldier Sodhi (Sunny Kaushal, admirable) befriends and fall in love with a soldier colleague Maya (Sharvari Wagh) as cannons, bombs, guns and rhetoric boom in the background. In another time-zone, Sodhi now in his 70s, and played by the commanding MK Raina, interacts with his young journalist-grandson amidst the turmoil of  student unrest in Burma.

Admittedly the going gets overly dramatic towards the end with Sodhi and Maya’s love story threatening to over-run the film’s combative fulcrum. However the editing and performances ensure a safe landing for this soaring drama of unadulterated nationalism. Miraculously Kabir’s tone of narration jumps over puddles of sentimentality and mawkishness, maintaining a tightly reined-in mood throughout. Even when portions of the love story get predictable Kabir infuses the familiar with a sense of wonderment.

Scores of actors surrender to their characters in a way that shows their commitment to bringing alive the atmosphere of impassioned patriotism. Gender dynamics are brought in fluently in the way the men in the INA respond to the women’s wing. There is one specially stirring subplot about a leery South Indian flautist soldier who learns to respect his female colleagues  through his love for one of them. I’d love to see a whole film devoted to these two characters. When the soldiers in this series salute to one another, an electric current passes from one to the other and then to us in the audience.

While MK Raina and Rohit Chaudhary stand out as the older version of Sodhi and Sodhi’s best friend in the army, respectively, it is Sunny Kaushal who holds the dilating strands  of the plot together with his credible and often incredible performance. After seeing what Sunny has done in this film about a forgotten chapter of the Indian freedom movement, I have to concede that Sunny is a better actor than his star-brother Vicky Kaushal. His commitment to the screenplay is singular.

The Forgotten Army is an admirable work of cinema with a canvas that accommodates generations of anguish for  the raw deal given to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose by those who wrote the history books. Kabir Khan’s superbly crafted series doesn’t rewrite history. It  throws forward a volley of passionate arguments and images in support of an unsung hero. The canvas is as large as the filmmaker’s ambitions. This is a film to be watched on the big screen, not on the phone. That’s more disservice to Netaji’s memory.

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