Suneil Shetty, a cook who delivers food to a band of Naxals holed up in a forest, is forced to join them, when the cops follow him and stage an encounter. Is this the initiation -- and politicisation -- of the apolitical simpleton into India's most violent and visible grassroot movements today?
Now what could be more topical than a film on India's most burning issue of the moment: the Naxalite movement that has metamorphosed into a civil war that seems to be setting our nation on fire. Ananth Narayan's film, scripted by one of our finest women directors, Aruna Raje, is doubly important. First, it literally takes off from the headlines that have been glaring in your face in the last few years. Second, it dares to enter not only the geographical territory of the war within, but also explores the more tricky ideological terrain. Is there any justification at all for the maoist movement which has created heroes out of people who are allegedly responsible for unprecedented violence and death? More importantly an ideology which is gradually growing into a mass movement, resulting in an ever-growing Red corridor, running through the heart of India.
Most of the drama is centred in a Maoist camp and witnessed through the eyes of Suneil Shetty, a humble cook who has no political leanings whatsoever. All he wants is to be left with his simple wife Bhagyashree and his two kids, after completing his job which entails delivering food for the fugitives. When one such mission causes him to be caught in the crossfire between the cops and the ultras, he is forced to join ranks with the rebels and ends up under the tutelage of the firebrand leader Ashish Vidyarthi. Vidyarthi leads a hungry pack of guerrilla fighters, hellbent on snatching their rights -- land, food, development -- from a supposedly unresponsive state. So, you have a gun-toting Seema Biswas, a Kohl-lined Ayesha Dharker, and a totally de-glam Sameera Reddy, riding the red wave, as Shetty hurdles up with them and pesters them with the pertinent poser: how justified is it to kill your own people? Ditto, queries Vidyarthi and lays down the matrix of the Maoist movement as a human rights movement, when viewed from the other side of the fence. The film essentially unfolds as the transformation of Shetty the apolitical cook, to a politicised citizen who is forced to pick up the gun, first for one camp and then another.
The film is naturally made within the confines of our Censor Board which means it must tread the middle path or cross-over to politically correct terrain (read the Indian State). No, Red Alert, refreshingly doesn't become a state-sponsored documentary, despite its sensitivity to Chidambaramspeak and all that terrorist versus revolutionary debate that springs from the Arundhati Roy camp. By and large, it races and paces through safe territory, and unfolds like a thriller that keeps you on the edge most of the time.
Performance wise, the film boasts of a strong ensemble cast, though one does feel fine actors like Seema Biswas and Ayesha Dharker have too little to do. Had they been given a larger role, Red Alert would have been molten lava. Suneil Shetty and Ashish Vidyarthi are earnest and engrossing while Sameera Reddy is unrecognisable and adequate. Scene Stealer? Naseeruddin Shah, despite being relegated to just a single scene. Vinod Khanna? Just okay as the Naxal ideologue who engineers a bizarre finale. It may be politically correct in its tenor, but Red Alert does make you sit up and demand attention especially in a season when political cinema is raising its banner in Bollywood.