A group of bearded terrorists with kohl eyes with a special accent and a manager who gives them orders over the phone. Innocent and unlucky people being held hostage, a few of whom will end up as collateral damage before men in uniform step in to save lives. The pressure is mounting as politicians are forced to make a difficult decision – whether to trade feared terrorists in exchange for people’s lives. Do these scenarios sound familiar to you? Well, that’s how most terrorist attack thrillers take shape, and ZEE5’s latest offering, State of Siege: Temple Attack, is no different.
The 110-minute film, directed by Akshaye Khanna, is for anyone who enjoys seeing a cat-and-mouse chase between horrible, heavily armed men and brave soldiers “can do anything for the nation.” But if you’re looking for a nuanced take on a heart-wrenching story involving flesh-and-blood monsters killing many at random, then you’ve come to the wrong place.
The film resumes the 2002 terrorist attack on Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on September 24, 2002. Two gunmen killed 33 people, including a National Security Guard (NSG) commando team and two Gujarat police officers, and in wounded 80. The attack followed the riots in Godhra. But, writers William Borthwick and Simon Fantauzzo focused solely on the role of National Security Guard (NSG) commandos in killing terrorists and rescuing hostages. In doing so, they stayed away from the facts of the attack, of course, to avoid any repercussions. The film opens with the disclaimer: “This film is inspired by real events and is a creative visualization and reconstruction of the context of those events”.
Before reaching the Krishna Dham temple (name used for Akshardham), the makers familiarize us with the key player in the story, Commando Hanut Singh (Akshaye Khanna). In an effective opening scene, Hanut Singh is seen leading a mission in Jammu and Kashmir, and it’s the failure of that mission that gives him a purpose to prove himself and why he never shoots. about. We then meet another commando (Gautam Rode), a married and happy man who is awaiting the birth of his first child. But he is torn between his duty for the nation and that of taking care of his hospitalized wife.
Other than these two commandos, we don’t know any of the characters who could have helped us place ourselves, mentally and emotionally, among the victims and survivors, and feel their pain. There is no visitor to the temple whose death will move you because the writers do not let them pass simple paper cutouts. It reminds me of the brilliantly designed Mumbai hotel by Anthony Maras, based on the infamous 11/26 bombing in Mumbai. There we were able to feel the complexity of human nature through the hotel staff and guests who were the embodiment of kindness and the terrorists who are brainwashed in the name of religion.
However, State of Siege: Temple Attack fails to evoke the slightest emotion. Ultimately, what emerges from the film is a barely sketched, chauvinistic battle between good and evil. It never puts you on the edge of your seat because you know all the tropes like this and the manufacturers never try anything different.
It’s only in the well-choreographed action sequences and scenes where NSG discusses their action plan that director Ken Ghosh draws us into the movie. In addition, Akshaye Khanna, with the maximum screen time, makes his security commander credible. Gautam Rode and Vivek Dahiya do their jobs equally well, no matter how much screen time they spend.
If it hadn’t been presented as a tale of the 2002 Akshardham terrorist attack, State of Siege: Temple Attack might have been a decent thriller. But when you walk in hoping to get a glimpse of one of the historic crises India has faced, you come away disappointed.