Stories revolving around India’s independence always capture the audience’s attention. But, this time, there was an interesting twist – the audience was not the regular mass audience but a select group of people who are riding the new wave of digitisation in cinema. ALTBalaji launched the first few episodes of its magnum opus web series, Bose – Dead/Alive yesterday, and it was everything the makers promised in the trailer.
Starring the supremely talented Rajkummar Rao as the lead protagonist playing the role of the Azad Hind Fauj founder Subhash Chandra Bose, the web series, based on Anuj Dhar’s book, Indian’s Biggest Cover-Up, took us back in time with its authenticity and subtle yet powerful approach, which is that Bose did not die in a plane crash.
The show revolves around the mysterious disappearance of Bose after his plane crashed in 1945. While the nation mourned his death, many officials believe that the freedom fighter is still alive. The I.G. Police officer of Calcutta, Stanley, has been crossing paths with Bose for decades and doesn’t think he is dead. He and other British officials enlist the help of Indian officers in the service to find out whether Bose is dead or alive.
While this is the premise of the series, it also talks about Bose’s personal life, how he met and married a German woman in Austria, during his self-imposed exile. He then came returned to Calcutta to become the Mayor, which did not stop the British government from imprisoning him from time to time, without actually having a reason.
The intricacies of political relationships between Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru and Bose and Mahatma Gandhi are also showcased in the first five episodes. How the rumours about Bose surviving the plane crash turn out to be true, how the British run around in circles trying to figure it out, and what part other Indian leaders play in this forms the crux of the web series.
Debutant director Pulkit may have had the backing of Ekta Kapoor’s ALTBalaji and filmmaker Hansal Mehta’s expert advice as creative producer, but he has definitely shown plenty of potential by bringing to life one of the biggest mysteries of the Indian freedom struggle. It’s a story that everyone knows in bits and pieces. We have read it, studied it and written it in our exam answer sheets during History tests. But Pulkit’s intense, dramatised depiction of the story makes it more interesting than ever before as the plot, with all its twists and turns, relates even to those not well versed in history.
The research that has gone into making this web series an accurate one is evident in many scenes. The incident where Bose tries to sell khadi to the Prince of Wales or the one where he jokes around and shows compassion to the Indian police officer following him, shows a different side of Bose as a freedom fighter and as a person.
The editing of the series is quite crisp as you are able to follow the story even when it jumps back-and-forth to various incidents in Bose’s life and the Indian freedom struggle. The climax of the last episode where a politician’s shades of grey are unveiled is a strong and powerful cliffhanger which will bring the audience back, seeking the answer.
The background score of the show is another plus point as it is fast-paced and quirky, somehow magically blending with the subtle story plots.
Performance-wise, this is Rajkummar Rao’s first foray into the world web and he has handled it as brilliantly as he does all of his other roles. The actor has so perfectly mastered the body language of Bose that it is sometimes difficult to tell the two apart. The other protagonist in the series is Edward Sonnenblick, who is quite good in the part of Officer Stanley. Patralekha’s performance is average. Anna Ador as Bose’s wife Emilie Schenkl is decent. Naveen Kasturia is excellent. The rest of the supporting cast is also strong.