It says something about a film based on a true incident (the terrorist attack on Gujarat’s Akshardham temple in September 2002) that its only effective sequence is purely fictional. A group of commandos are engaged in rescuing the daughter of a politician kidnapped by terrorists. Even as Major Hanut Singh [Akshaye Khanna] disregards his superior’s orders and proceeds to free the hostage, some effective camerawork and sound design build up to an exciting denouement. The mission ends badly with Singh losing a fellow officer — thus giving him that staple of all ‘mission’ films: The hero haunted by a past failure getting a shot at redemption with a new mission.
However, the potential is never realised as State of Siege, despite its explosive true-life credentials, ends up a crashing bore. Even at its only 110-minute runtime, the film seems never-ending. The only thing that prevented me from reaching for the fast-forward on the remote was some sense of fidelity — one I am still not sure the film deserves — to the act of reviewing the film.
Recuperating from the botched operation, Singh is put in charge of what he terms a ‘babysitting’ mission in Gujarat. The state’s chief minister [Samir Soni] is to address a high-level business delegation and Singh is assigned the task of providing him and the delegation necessary security. However, things take an unexpected turn as a group of terrorists storm the temple premises, killing devotees and tourists at random, before taking the survivors hostage. Their handlers in PoK demand the release of a terrorist from prison in exchange for the hostages, threatening to kill one every half hour till their demand is met. Enter Singh once again, this time leading his commandos into the temple.
But if the security apparatus is caught unawares in the services of the script, the scriptwriters [William Borthwick and Simon Fantauzzo] and director [Ken Ghosh] seem to run out of ideas even before Singh’s mission gets under way. There isn’t one novel strand in the film. And much of the treatment reeks of the 1990s (in films often starring Sunny Deol and Ajay Devgn). What is it about Hindi cinema that we just don’t get our real-life-inspired ‘mission’ or war films right? From Haqeeqat to Saat Hindustani to Border, our films veer from sappy sentimentality to overt jingoism, always failing the test of verisimilitude. State of Siege is no exception. In another era, we had our resources (technical and financial) to blame as also the box-office requirements of songs (always a killer for a war-actioner). Ken Ghosh has none of those excuses to offer.
The problems with the film’s politics are too many to recount here. But even seen in isolation, giving it the benefit of that hoary excuse that ‘it’s only a film’, it fails to work as a routine actioner too. The biggest of its countless problems lies in the fact that not a single character — the commandos, the terrorists or the hostages — is sketched with any depth, hence they remain stock tropes who fail to engage the viewer. The absence of full-blooded characters is compounded by Hindi film cliches going back to antiquity, none more so than the good Muslim (to balance the terrorists) sweeper who hammers home a lesson in faith and jihad with all the subtlety of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. State of Siege leaves one feeling woefully sorry for Akshaye Khanna. Here’s an actor who deserves better than the drivel he is given here to ram past the finishing line. Caught in the cross hairs of woebegone writing and a shoddily developed character, it is no wonder that even he is at a loss to make good this sorry mess. The only thing the film lays siege to are the viewer’s sensibilities.
Title: State of Siege: Temple Attack
Cast: Akshaye Khanna, Gautam Rode, Vivek Dahiya, Pravin Dabas, Samir Soni
Director: Ken Ghosh
Rating: 1 star
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)