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New Amazon Prime series remembers The Forgotten Army

While Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was leading a non-violent agitation against India’s British rulers, Netaji Subhashchandra Bose headed an army, the Indian National Army (INA/Azad Hind Fauj) outside India, an army that battled colonial forces on the Singapore-Thailand-Myanmar route and reached India’s North-Eastern Border, near Imphal, before being pushed back and defeated. Bose himself is reported to have died in an air-crash in Taiwan, in 1945, though rumours of his being alive kept floating for some four decades after the crash. He was never found to be alive, and, sadly even the contributions of his army were largely forgotten.

Kabir Khan made a documentary on India’s organised war of independence in 1999, but he always wanted to do much more. He approached several big studios, including YashRaj Films, but nobody was willing to back the project, which was gargantuan in scale. Finally, he found a backer in the shape of Amazon Prime, and the series will be streamed from 24January, with the title same as that of his documentary, The Forgotten Army (Azaadi Ke Liye/For the sake of freedom). A trailer was launched on 07 January, at the PVR multiplex, Juhu, Mumbai, which was attended by Kabir, and four lead players of the series: Sunny Kaushal, Rohit Chaudhary, Sharvari Wagh (debut) and T.J. Bhanu.

Sunny Kaushal, Sharvari Wagh, Kabir Khan, Vijay Subramaniam, T.J. Bhanu and Rohit Chaudhary

It was a feeling of “magic” for Kabir, who lived with the project for 20 years. “I think the goodwill of the Azad Hind Fauj was with us…their blessings were with us. It is a scared story that I had to tell. It is almost like a promise I had made to Lakshmi Sehgal and G.S. Dhillon, (brave officers of INA), that I will tell their story on a larger level. Saigal and Dhillon were with Khan when he made the documentary. Retracing the route the army had taken, they recalled living in a cave for many days. Amazingly, we rediscovered the cave, replete with the statue of Budhha that had been placed there as a symbol of protection. It took four days of scouting, but ultimately, the cave was found,” revealed Khan, who has directed such blockbusters as Ek Tha Tiger and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, as well as the semi-autobiographical Kabul Express. “Once again, I was in real locations, where I am in my element, shooting this series in Thailand. Put me on a set, and I am a dead duck,” he confessed. The Forgotten Army was largely shot in Thailand, where Burmese locales were reconstructed (most of the battles of INA were fought in Myanmar), because they could not shoot in Myanmar due to political reasons.”

Sunny Kaushal (Gold, Official Chukyagiri, Official CEOgiri), younger brother of the in-demand Vicky Kaushal, plays Captain Sodhi, who has some powerful dialogue and also a love interest in the shape of Maya, a part given to his real-life girl-friend, Sharvari, who will make her film debut as a con-girl in Bunty Aur Babli 2, a sequel to the 2005 romanticon. Sunny felt that “…it was a brilliant opportunity to be a part of this.” Sharvari, a Science student of Ruparel College in Mumbai, has studied acting at the Jeff Goldberg Studio and also done dance workshops at Danceworx. She declared that, “All women are soldiers at their core,” and said that the new thing she learnt was handling guns, including the use of shell cases of real bullets. Rohit (Bareilly Ki Barfi, Padmaavat, TV series Naagin) is cast as Captain Arshad, who has a journey very similar to that of Sodhi, but for the romantic angle. T.J. Bhanu, from Raipur, is a Miss India 2014 finalist, model, anchor, Radio Jockey and voice actor, and has won the title of Miss Vivacious. This is her debut too. While shooting, she had so many falls that Kabir jokingly calls her Calamity Jane. “I fell in an underwater hole eight times. It was in my way, and I kept falling in it take after take. There was a huge wound on my leg,” she told an interested audience. Rohit gave credit to the uniform for helping him get into the character, “…with a sense of pride.” Also, he said, “…the readings and workshops helped a lot.”

The trailer is a trail-blazer, high on military training and action, with a touch of romance. It supports the claim made by Vijay Subramaniam, Director & Content Head Amazon Prime Video India, that the series will rank “…up there, along with Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk.” Subramaniam, who was the first to address the gathering, recalled that ever since 2016, Amazon Prime has been making quality content. In 2019, they produced varied originals like The Family Man, Four More Shots, Inside Edge 2 and Comicstaan 2. “We are privileged to kick off 2020 with The Forgotten Army. I call this series the dum pukht variety among Biryanis. For us our driving philosophy is to become the preferred choice of content creators,” he averred.