Ae Watan Mere Watan Review: Neither Consistently Riveting Nor Memorably Rousing

Ae Watan Mere Watan Review: Sara Ali Khan, playing the principal character, is way too porcelain and dainty to convey the remarkably doughty woman's fierce determination.

Ae Watan Mere Watan Review: Neither Consistently Riveting Nor Memorably Rousing

A still from Ae Watan Mere Watan. (courtesy: saraalikhan95)

With history and politics increasingly serving as vehicles of blatant propaganda in the hands of some Mumbai filmmakers, it is with trepidation that one approaches Ae Watan Mere Watan. Mercifully, it turns out that the historical thriller produced by Dharmatic Entertainment and Amazon MGM Studios does not have agenda-tinged blinkers on.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video and featuring Sara Ali Khan as a khadi-clad freedom fighter taking on the might of the British, Ae Watan Mere Watan does not fall prey to excess as it brings to the screen a little-known but important chapter of India's independence movement.

While the freedom fighters in the film shout slogans, express unwavering anti-colonial intent and resist a brutal regime, Ae Watan Mere Watan is anything but given to shrill posturing. The restraint that the film demonstrates in peddling patriotism is commendable but it does not sadly translate into something bigger than the sum of its parts.

Ae Watan Mere Watan, directed by Kannan Iyer who debuted a decade ago with the supernatural horror film Ek Thi Dayan, isn't as impactful as it should have been given that it does not lack elements that instantly resonate in an era in which news is in the midst of a protracted silly season.

Scripted by Darab Farooqui, Ae Watan Mere Watan revolves around a period of freedom fighter Usha Mehta's life. Sara Ali Khan, playing the principal character, is way too porcelain and dainty to convey the remarkably doughty woman's fierce determination.

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's "do or die" call as part of the Quit India movement, Usha Mehta, then only 22 and at loggerheads with her pro-Churchill judge-father (Sachin Khedekar) who sees no reason why the family should side with the Congress, started a secret radio station in 1942 to transmit the message of independence to the people.

The film covers only a brief period of history. Usha's defiance lasted a few months before the police clamped down on her and her associates. For violating a ban imposed on radio stations during World War II, she was jailed for four years. But neither the fear of penal action nor the prospect of her father's ire is able to stop the young lady.

Gandhi, played by Uday Chandra, appears in two scenes. The focus of Ae Watan Mere Watan is on the socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia (Emraan Hashmi is an extended guest appearance). The latter's voice is heard repeatedly on the airwaves and elsewhere as Usha and her associates, Kaushik (Abhay Verma) and Fahad (Sparsh Shrivastava), run Congress Radio from a secret location and dodge the law as long as they can.

Hindi cinema has never given Lohia his due. By granting him a rightful pride of place in the Usha Mehta story, Ae Watan Mere Watan provides the audience with a significant piece of history that has hitherto not been highlighted enough. Hashmi, an actor who thrives on being effortless, fleshes out Lohia without resorting to unduly flashy methods.

While the performance is sufficiently weighty, the film appears to struggle with pace and depth. Not so much the cloak-and-dagger drama that it should ideally have been as a thriller cast in a conventional mould complete with action scenes and chases, Ae Watan Mere Watan lacks the intrinsic power to generate genuine tension and a sense of danger.

The film equates the airwaves with wings. Spread your wings, Mahatma Gandhi exhorts his followers. Usha intends to do just that - seek freedom with the help of the radio signals that she transmits "from somewhere in India".

Mumbai Police inspector, John Lyre (Alexx O'Nell), is on the trail of the people behind the secret radio station. The climax of the film (parts of which are revealed in a brief prelude) centres on a raid on a building that houses the clandestine broadcasting set-up.

A cop points a gun at Usha as she runs down a staircase. The sequence cuts to a scene in which the protagonist, as a 10-year-old girl, is in an open-air classroom in Surat where a teacher explains to her the significance of the freedom struggle.

The staging is somewhat stuffy and the emphasis is on dialogues that sound more like speeches than conversational exchanges. But a couple of points that Ae Watan Mere Watan makes have contemporary relevance and deserve mention.

In one scene, Usha asserts that news empowers people. She makes the statement is response to an associate's lament that newspapers of the day are spreading falsehoods. What we see and think, he adds, is being controlled by these sources of information. The official channels of communication are spreading false news, Usha says, and it is, therefore, imperative to get the truth to the people.

In another sequence, Usha and her comrades discuss the pitfalls of andh-bhakti (blind obeisance), citing the example of Lohia who, despite idolising Jawaharlal Nehru, would think nothing of criticising him when the need arose.

At another juncture in the film, Lohia is cited again to emphasise that the fight against a tyrant isn't waged necessarily with an eye on triumphing over him. One fights a tyrant because he is a tyrant. Ae Watan Mere Watan does not project patriotism as an end in itself nor does it portray it as a panacea for all problems. It goes beyond the narrow confines of what notion stands for today.

Ae Watan Mere Watan addresses the themes of love and revolution, freedom and unity, truth and pragmatism with an undercurrent of subversion that gives it an edge and elevates it above the chronicle that it is out to craft in the service of telling a story unsung heroes of India's freedom struggle.

The first-rate production design ensures that period details do not go awry. Director of photography Amalendu Chaudhary lends an evocative quality to the film's visual palette.

Ae Watan Mere Watan makes its points with clarity and directness. It tells a tale that has meat, but the storytelling style that the film adopts stops it significantly short of being either consistently riveting or memorably rousing.


Sara Ali Khan, Sachin Khedekar, Abhay Verma, Sparsh Shrivastav, Alexx O' Nell, Anand Tiwari, Emraan Hashmi


Kannan Iyer