A ripped-from-the-headlines drama about India’s Naxalite-Maoist insurgency, Red Alert: The War Within arrives amid a recent surge of violent activity. This far left revolutionary movement, whose members have fought with the government in the name of peasants’ rights since 1967, led to more than a thousand casualties in 2009 alone. Aruna Raje’s script employs a classic “stranger in a strange land” device to take the viewer into the den of the Naxalites. Farm laborer Narasimha (Sunil Shetty, a spectacle of rippling muscle and life-raft lips) literally stumbles into a firefight between guerrillas and the police, and winds up marooned in the jungle with a unisex unit of unsmiling Maoists. Before long, he’s packing heat and taking names, but never without a smear of pouty resignation. Raje and director Anant Mahadevan aim directly for the middle here, respecting the Naxalites’ pro-laborer agenda, but condemning their vicious methods and painting the authorities as clueless but ultimately essential to restoring law and order. Every character has been calibrated between bravery and cowardice, self-sacrifice and self-protection, and stylistically, the film careens between prestige pic sloganeering (“This is a war—what matters is our cause”) and fevered exploitation, complete with vengeful rape victims and lens-splattering exploded melons. Outside of a nifty last-minute call for legitimate political dissent, Red Alert has little more to offer than a limp, global entreaty to “stop the violence.” Good luck with that.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 6, 2010