Jehanabad – Of Love and War is now streaming on SonyLIV, and is a dramatised retelling of a real-life Naxalite-perpetrated jailbreak which took place in November 2005, in Jehanabad, Bihar. The drama-thriller by show runner Sudhir Mishra and director Rajeev Barnwal also touches upon various other topics of relevance in its small-town setting, including local politics and crime, customs and traditions, and caste equations that plague the typical affairs of semi-urban Bihar. While the crux of the plot is based on true events, the majority of this show is a fictional story loosely linked to the actual events themselves. Read on for our spoiler-free review of Jehanabad – Of Love and War.
It’s worth pointing out here that Jehanabad – Of Love and War isn’t a big-budget production, and has a cast filled with actors you know you’ve seen somewhere, but can’t immediately put your finger on exactly where. The sets and shoot locations also seem a bit odd and out of place — it feels more like an affluent suburb of a big city in India than the small, semi-urban town that the real-life Jehanabad in Bihar actually is.
The show starts rather strongly with a scene involving violence and the kidnapping of a bridegroom from his own wedding. However most of the show from this point forward takes place as a flashback, taking some of the edge off the intense opening scene and slowing things down considerably.
Still, there is some appeal in this story for many because of its setting and perhaps the deliberate whitewashing of the locations. It often takes on tones of edginess and intellectualism that sets it apart from much of what you tend to find on Indian OTT platforms, and is tailored to its target Gen-z and millennial audience rather well.
This includes young and good-looking actors, fairly frequent use of English as a plot device to point towards the education levels of certain characters, and a somewhat edgy synth-pop background score. The dialects in use are reasonably tailored to the setting and location of the show, but not too much; this helps in making the language and dialogues a bit easier to understand for all Hindi speakers.
Jehanabad – Of Love and War also spends a bit of time delving into social issues such as caste-based discrimination and conservative values in small-town India that tend to promote patriarchy and gender-based inequality. It tries to toe a fairly progressive line with this, but ends up spending more time focusing on the romantic angle between the two leads, and its implications in the larger scheme of things.
I did find some of the casting choices a bit strange. Arguably the best-known actor in Jehanabad is Rajat Kapoor (recently seen in Drishyam 2), who comes across as too posh and suave to play his character Shivanand Singh, the local ex-MLA and strongman deeply tied into the dirty politics and caste equations of the region.
Although undeniably the antagonistic kingpin of the entire timeline, at no point does Shivanand Singh seem as fearsome (or even as realistic) as he should, with the role essentially pulled along only by the clear and straightforward dialogue. Rajat Kapoor seems largely wasted in this role, with his biggest strengths — the ability to speak both Hindi and English capably and fluently, as well as his sophisticated looks — going to waste because of the character chosen for him.
The same goes for some of the other characters in the show, including Parambrata Chattopadhyay who plays the role of Deepak Kumar, a Naxalite leader captured and jailed for political motives. His inclinations and the suggested level of his dangerousness aren’t very believable throughout the series, although he does manage to provide a few surprises and twists through a well-practiced ‘evil’ grin.
Others such as Jagmohan Kumar (Suneel Sinha) more convincingly plays the part of a ruthless Naxalite commander willing to go to any lengths to achieve his organisation’s goals, including ordering the killing of innocent civilians dragged into the plot by his own organisation’s carelessness. Called ‘Guruji’ by his comrades, he comes across as the most manipulative and cunning of all the antagonists.
This also brings me to the lack of a firm division in Jehanabad between the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys. The police are portrayed as corrupt and politically motivated, while the political classes engage in vote-bank politics and the expected level of scheming. Most of the ‘innocent’ civilians may not be guilty of any actual wrongdoing, but are certainly apathetic towards social problems such as caste-based discrimination and the acceptance of opposing political views.
The most convincing performances in Jehanabad – Of Love and War come from Harshita Gaur and Satyadeep Mishra, who play Kasturi Mishra and Durgesh Pratap Singh, Jehanabad district’s Superintendent of Police. The rest of the cast, including lead Ritwik Bhowmik as Abhimanyu Singh, simply don’t put on a performance worth remembering, and come across as too predictable.
Gaur performs well as Kasturi, a regular middle-class but politically well-connected college student, who controls much of the screen time on Jehanabad – Of Love and War. She also sounds the most convincing as a small-town resident of Bihar, something that the rest of the cast don’t quite pull off as easily. Satyadeep Mishra, despite playing the role of a corrupt senior cop, manages to come across as the smartest character on the show by a big margin, although his adversaries manage to stay one step ahead of him till the end.
The love story itself is predictable and often boring; Jehanabad – Of Love and War spends far too much time on this, and not enough on the much more interesting and engaging political plot that leads to the infamous jailbreak. While the core plot of the jailbreak tries to stick to real-life events, the series manages to adapt its own story of the events reasonably well, with an action-packed finale that helps tie all the loose ends together.
The real-life event which took place in November 2005 saw hundreds of heavily-armed Naxalites attack a jail and free prisoners in the jail, under the cover of a siege and battle on the streets of the town of Jehanabad.
On the whole, Jehanabad – Of Love and War’s short episodes and interesting political and social elements make up for the occasionally slow and somewhat boring main story. It’s worth a watch from a learning and historical perspective, even if the performances don’t quite tell the story as well as it deserved to be told.