View from the Trenches
Stories about life in the armed forces are fast becoming bankable formulas for OTT platforms
When it comes to web shows that depict army life and exploits, filmmaker Raj Acharya is a veteran of sorts. Having directed the limited series 21 Sarfarosh: Saragarhi 1897 (discovery+, 2018) and two seasons of Avrodh (SonyLIV, 2020—), Acharya can’t seem to get enough of making shows about the Indian Army. “The endeavour at every stage is to make it look different,” he says. Given the fresh surge in demand for inspiring narratives about the Indian armed forces, Acharya isn’t the only one thriving. There are several others who believe that what works in films like Uri: The Surgical Strike
(2021) and Gunjan Saxena (2020) will work in a longer OTT format, too.
In June, Dice Media released Bravehearts
(YouTube), an anthology of short films while SonyLIV unveiled the second season of Avrodh,
adapting another chapter of Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh’s bestselling book India’s Most Fearless. In
July, Disney+ Hotstar’s
Shoorveer will see an elite task force consisting of the finest from the army, navy and air force come together for a mission. While some of India’s streaming giants have shown men in uniform battle China (Disney+ Hotstar’s
1962: The War in the Hills) and even zombies (Netflix’s Ghoul), others have chosen to put women in the spotlight (AltBalaji’s The Test Case and Code M).
Despite their profusion, it must be noted that making a defencebased show is not easy. Since wars are never fought with one-man armies, budgets are often steep. Exposed to international programming, audiences want action sequences to be awe-inspiring. “You have to wow the audience with imagery,” says Acharya. “Only then does it make for an edge-ofthe-seat experience.”
After AltBalaji faced legal trouble for its depiction of an army officer in an episode of its series XXX (2018), roping in a military advisor or a defence consultant, most often a retired officer, is now imperative. This is why Dice Media had threestar lieutenant general I.S. Singha as an expert to vet the scripts and ensure accuracy when it came to insignia on uniforms, ranks and even the language the anthology employed. The makers of Avrodh went a step further and sent their scripts to the Additional Directorate General of Public Information in the defence ministry for clearance.
That’s not to say creative liberties cannot be taken. “We use our discretion in a manner that’s not damaging to national interest,” says Acharya. “You can glamorise within the realm of authenticity. But it cannot be Ramboish.” For the upcoming season of Avrodh, the name of the lead protagonist has been changed from
Pradeep Arya to Chakravarty and character arcs of the terrorists have also been etched out. “For heroism to stand out, the villains have to also be known,” adds Acharya.
According to Aditi Shrivastava, showrunner of Bravehearts and co-founder & CEO of Pockets Aces, the appeal lies in expanding the dimensions of the genre by moving the action beyond the border. “We wanted to see what it means to not just be in the army but also to belong to an army family,” she says.
In Bravehearts, the stories centre on a widow’s grief, an officer battling PTSD and a woman trying to get into the army. The ideas, she says, came from a writer’s room with many army kids in it.
The genre’s popularity is unlikely to wane. The box office success of the recently released Top Gun: Maverick is a case in point. Sameer Nair, CEO of Applause Entertainment, which has produced Avrodh and the upcoming Hindi adaptation of Israeli show Fauda (2015—), believes that India hasn’t built up the storytelling impulse of “patriots protecting the homeland” enough. “Americans have built a culture of being proud of the flag, [of protecting] America from all sort of imagined and real dangers,” he says. “I think it is important to do that more here.” ■
To ensure authenticity, roping in a military advisor or a defence consultant is now imperative