Red Alert: The War Within fashions itself as an even-handed, “based on a true story” portrayal of a poverty-stricken farm worker in rural India who joins a guerilla-style militia group in the hope of providing for his children. Narashima (Sunil Shetty), the farmer-turned-revolutionary, quickly moves up the ranks from cook to riflemen, finding bloodshed everywhere he turns. The last straw for him comes when he takes part in a raid on an elementary school, baring witness to the unfortunate collateral damage of young ones. Narashima soon abandons the cause and his recent friends to save himself, eventually cutting a deal with the police to protect his family.
Similar to the recent Bollywood crossover Raajneeti, Red Alert overtly hammers away ideas about corrupt bureaucracy squashing the little man, while throwing in some elaborately planned shoot-outs for good measure; one intensely realized moment follows the crew of rebels as they take over a children’s school, a scene seemingly pulled from a Paul Greengrass picture in the way the director uses rapid-fire jump cuts in jaunty, nausea-inducing fashion to convey a heart-thumping sense of unease. No matter how refreshing it is not to be bombarded with a single sing-and-dance extravaganza, Red Alert still falls back on the patented, stiffly acted melodrama of Bollywood. Even though the film proves slightly tilted toward the slant of leftist politics, it pegs itself as a two-sided treatment of the political fight for the people’s rights; after Narashima goes to the police, we get to see the government’s side of the story, and the complexities involved with combating guerilla warfare.
The unforgiveable flaw of the film is its lack of subtlety, the way character detail and plot development is laid for us on a silver platter, never requiring the audience to read between lines or fully engage with the intricacies of the lead character’s internal and moral quandary. Red Alert portrays a world torn to bits by opposing sides, relegating the unfortunate few as mere pawns in their all-out war for justice. If only the film was able to consistently command the viewer’s attention via visual excitement and sustain the taut qualities of the abovementioned scene, then we would have a solidly riveting flick here. Instead, the audience must sit through character after character spouting zealous, didactic ideals as the plot slowly moves to a ludicrously schemed, if somewhat unexpected, ending.