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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Bose Dead or Alive: Rajkummar Rao in thriller take on Indian freedom fighter

Bose Dead or Alive: Rajkummar Rao in thriller take on Indian freedom fighter

If you were a patriot and freedom seeker in the British colonial India of the 1920s-1940s, you either believed in non-violent struggle, a movement led by ‘Mahatma’ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or the increasingly violent approach of ‘Netaji’ Subhas Chandra Bose. Mahatma means great soul and Netaji translates as leader. Both belonged to the Congress party, but when Bose called for armed struggle, Gandhi disassociated himself from Bose. Two years before India gained independence, under Gandhi’s leadership, Bose was reported killed in an air crash. But to many millions of Indians, he never died. At least not in that plane crash in Japanese Formosa (now Taiwan), in 1945. So, what happened? A cover-up? Why and by whom?

Bose Dead or Alive is an App series based on a book titled India’s Biggest Cover-Up and stars immensely popular film actor Rakjummar Rao in the titular role. Five of the episodes were previewed for a select audience on 17th November, where Hansal Mehta, a renowned film-maker, was present, officiating in his role as Creative Producer on the series. It will start streaming on 20th November exclusively on the ALTBalaji App. It is part fact, part fiction, part postulation, and is shot in the thriller mode.

One recalls the 1966 version that had a lilting numbers tuned by Aparesh Lahiri, father of Bappi. More recently, in 2004, Shyam Benegal featured Sachin Khedekar as Bose: The Forgotten Hero, and earned encomiums. The fact that a series in being made in 2017, 82 years after that fateful plane crash, shows that the man who founded the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) abroad, with the hopes of attacking the British rulers and liberating India, continues to capture the imagination of his countrymen. The fact that he tied up with German and Japanese forces and made a valiant, short-lived attack on his own country does not bother many Indians, for the ends were greater than the means.

Although majority opinion holds that Bose did die in that air-crash, theories abound about a massive cover-up. Arguments in favour of such a theory are that there is no record of the flight of the plane, no trace of the large amount of gold it was supposed to be carrying, no picture of Bose’s body, contradicting statements of witnesses and survivors and the discovery that two brothers who were part of Bose’s army were found living in incredible grandeur in Japan, soon after the crash.

A project of this nature must have had writer Reshu Nath scanning volumes after volumes, and inserting those tit-bits that fill in the narrative gaps and give it a gripping edge. The series is directed by Bihar-born Pulkit, famously described as ‘single monikered’. Is that a cover-up? Pulkit made his debut feature Maroon, which was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival 2016. It was a psychological thriller in which actors worked free. From there, it went straight to Netflix. His thriller approach, back and forth alternating time spans and fast-cutting work well in Bose.

Rao is in great touch, maybe just a bit arrogant. Then again, Bose might have been arrogant in real life. He’s worked with Hansal Mehta before, and so has Patralekhaa (City Lights, Love Games; Nandini), the woman who plays Nandini, the spunky, foreign-educated would-be match for Subhash, who has at least one wow scene. Naveen Kasturia plays DarbariLal, the Indian policeman who hounds Bose for years and has an ambivalent attitude to the idea of free India. Edward Sonnenblick (Neerja, Rangoon, Firangi) is Stanley, the Bose-baiter who is constantly haunted by his quarry. Another British official, Anderson, is played by Alexx O'Nell (Gangster, Umrika, Main Aur Charles). Watch out for Anna Ador (Fredrick, Udta Punjab, Passport), cast as Emilie, the love interest and mother of Bose’s daughter. One more foreigner has an important role as a hideous Professor: Zachary Coffin (Mary Kom, Housefull 3). Sanjay Gurbaxani essays the part of Jawaharlal Nehru, who emerged as the suave successor of Gandhi’s legacy and went on to become India’s first Prime Minister. It's a passable presence.

A pulsating and sometimes over the top sound-track is provided courtesy Andrew T. Mackay (of Bombay Dub Orchestra fame). Kumar Saurabh, who did good work with Debashish Makhija’s claustrophobic satirical short, Absent, gets a full series to showcase his work. Sifting form an overload of material, and some big historical names and incidents to shuttle with, Yasha Ramchandani (location editor of Udta Punjab) keeps it tight and in motion. The pace does slacken when a few tender moments emerge, only to surge again


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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