‘Bastar: The Maligned Red Corridor’ – A Film’s Endeavor to Recast Naxalism as Cinema’s New Antagonist

In a cinematic landscape where contentious issues are often woven into compelling narratives, director Sudipto Sen’s ‘Bastar: The Naxal Story’ follows a similar pathway, this time aiming its crosshairs at the issue of Naxal violence. With a precursor in ‘The Kerala Story’ that managed to find success at the box office, Sen embarks on a journey to unravel a complex web of conspiracy theories surrounding the Naxalite movement.

The film’s premise is intriguing, positioning itself as a window into the covert motives behind the protracted insurgency. The audience is primed for an unveiling of hidden truths, but upon viewing, it becomes apparent that Sen’s cinematic endeavor caters to an audience with a selective vision. The narrative unravels through a series of diatribes against communism, signaling that the film’s revelation is perhaps not as impartial as one might hope.

Crafted with the finesse of a seasoned social media influencer, ‘Bastar’ takes a heavy-handed approach in its attempt to shift the socio-political ecosystem in a direction that seemingly benefits the ruling power. The timing is no coincidence—released amidst election season, the film conveniently presents a new antagonist to the public eye.

Previously stoking the fires of Islamophobia, Sen’s latest work sets its sights on left-leaning activists in the Bastar region. The film accuses them of ensnaring the media, Bollywood, and even the judiciary within their influential web. The narrative intertwines real events, such as the tragic massacre of 76 CRPF soldiers, with heightened drama. In its portrayal, the Maoist insurgency is likened to the horrors of Islamic State and Boko Haram, drawing unfounded parallels with international terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba and LTTE.

The film disclaims any bias against ideologies, yet the subsequent cinematic journey relentlessly casts communism in a dark light, whilst defending the divisive Salwa Judum, a local militia formed to combat Maoists. The narrative does not shy away from casting doubt on judicial decisions that discourage pitting citizens against each other, advocating for more confrontational measures.

Set against the backdrop of the new millennium’s first decade, ‘Bastar’ does probe the motivations of political leadership and activists in fueling the insurgency. However, glaring omissions are evident, such as the absence of corporatized interests in mining that impacts indigenous lands, and the silence on politicians catering to those corporate agendas.

The film adorns itself with elaborate depictions of violence and an overwhelming score—sensational tools used to desensitize and manipulate audiences into accepting a one-sided story. A deeper analysis of the socio-political context or the psychological underpinnings of the conflict is notably missing, reducing the insurgency to a simplistic binary of good versus evil. The depiction is tantamount to a visual adaptation of provocative messaging apps, weaponizing the sacrifices of soldiers to steer public opinion.

In its cinematic execution, the character of police officer Neerja Madhavan, played by Adah Sharma, embodies the directorial voice. Her mantra “results over excuses” echoes the film’s overarching sentiment; she relentlessly seeks a target, and when none are present, her frustrations find outlet in her words. Sharma’s portrayal mirrors the fervent partisanship visible in social and political discourses.

The film interlude also serves to promote an upcoming movie, ‘The UP Files,’ affording a glimpse into the political narrative that ‘Bastar’ subscribes to. Post-screening, the fervent nationalism of YouTuber critics resonates with the film’s underlying call to patriotism, as ‘Jai Hind’ punctuates their reviews.

‘Bastar: The Naxal Story’ is currently available for viewing in theaters. Its ambition to enlighten is evident, though the arc of its enlightenment casts a shadow on certain truths, aligning itself with a very specific political paradigm. It remains to be seen how audience receptions and cinematic critique will judge this foray into the complex tapestry of India’s ongoing struggle with Naxalism.

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