Director: Aditya KV
Cast: Srinivas Avasarala, Priyadarshi, Chandini Chowdary, Aditya Yanamandra
It's easier to think of Unheard as a series of recorded stage plays rather than considering it a well-made television series that uses the medium to put its point across. Covering a period that begins in 1918 and ending right after independence, we listen in on deep conversations that take us into the mindset of the Indian youth of that period. The minimalist setup, with nothing but music and lighting to aid actors, takes a little getting used to. The sets feel like sets and the costumes add little to make the experience immersive, but the conversations have a way of drawing us in.
In the first episode, we get a debate between a passionate participant who wants to fight for freedom and a privileged pacifist who finds nothing wrong with the powers that be. In another, we get a Bhagat Singh supporter arguing his points with a Gandhian blacksmith, the latter rejecting all forms of violence. Yet the most interesting episode was a discussion between a police officer representing the British confessing his case to the aforementioned Gandhian. In this confession, he discusses dharma, his legacy and the crimes he had committed in their pursuit. Every point of view is explored in detail and the actors are able to add heft to the arguments, even though our first instinct is to reject them.
Characters we see early on in the series come back later on and a few even go back. What this does is get us to see the evolution of these characters as circumstances and time periods change around them. In one case, we even see how different the same person was back when he was at the heights of his power. Which means even with its episodic nature, we still get character arcs and back stories that would otherwise have been difficult to integrate into the format.
But how much we engage with these individual episodes depend almost entirely on the actors. Ajay, who gets two episodes of the six, gets the best situations and what felt like the most conflicting character. Not only does this Gandhian make guns and come with the baggage of war, but he seems to be going back to his older more violent self when debates go against his values. Priyadarshi too, playing an extremist, gets some of the best dialogues and scenes and he yet again proves his caliber as a strong performer.
But there's only so much actors can do with certain episodes. With very little to add in terms of filmmaking, certain episodes feel too preachy and wordy to sound real. In other instances, forced chats about classic films and trivia, restrict the flow with which we pay attention to serious topics. And when conversations make way for obvious exposition, the series gives us the feeling that we're watching a Wikipedia page being enacted. Unheard works partly as an interesting experiment that's better to listen to rather than watch.