The Hindu (Mumbai)

Sara Ali Khan leads this fancy dress show

- Anuj Kumar Ae Watan Mere Watan is currently streaming on Prime Video

When Congress leadership was incarcerat­ed, an intrepid, young Usha Mehta (Sara Ali Khan) came up with the idea of a covert radio station to reignite the Quit India Movement. This unsung but important strand of the Indian freedom movement is undone by heavyhande­d treatment in Kannan Iyer’s Ae

Watan Mere Watan.

The film’s emotional notes sound either superficia­l or a little too earnest for a large part. Instead of taking us to the period, the wellmeanin­g venture unspools like a fancy dress show where actors seemingly read out their character sketches from cue cards. In an attempt to connect with the digital generation, it loses the veracity of the time it seeks to recreate.

The start is particular­ly stagy where Usha, shackled by the love of her father (Sachin Khedekar), a judge devoted to the Raj, is struggling to choose between her family and motherland. The two talk in the affected tone of a television commercial, so much that when Usha laments to her friend that she did not know that doing the right thing would hurt so much, one wonders why saying the right thing would demand such decoration.

In her bid to portray the earnestnes­s of the character,

Sara resorts to chipmunkis­h behaviour. Here, it is reflected in her expression­s and body language. However, gradually, in the company of Sparsh

Srivastav, playing a freedom fighter with polio, named

Fahad, she settles into the role and, more importantl­y, the period. Towards the end, they create a hearttuggi­ng scene where the incomplete­ness of a woman in our society is linked to that of a disabled person.

The writing of Darab

Farooqui and Kannan is not without potential. When the film talks about how the British government controlled the big media and how the radio spread lies, it rings a bell. So does the need for sach ki ghutti (potion of truth) when opium is being fed.

Without pandering to an agenda, the film underscore­s that much before the current regime took on Jawaharlal Nehru’s idea of India, there was his comrade Dr Ram Manohar Lohia (Emraan Hashmi) who stood up against blind devotion and obeisance. Emraan, in an extended guest appearance, brings alive the honest demeanour of the leader.

The problem is that the text is not engaging and rousing enough and the subtext comes through like bullet points in an essay writing competitio­n. Historical pieces need to be sparse and contemplat­ive but our period films are turning the past into an objective exercise.

In this Karan Johar production, gloss overrides the moment’s truth, making the period piece feel made up.

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