Director: Vishal Mangalorkar
Cast: Amit Sadh, Sushant Singh, Amrita Puri, Aly Goni
Producer: Boney Kapoor, Arunava Joy Sengupta and Akash Chawla
Writer: Siddharth Mishra, Arjumand Khatri
Streaming Platform: Zee5
There are two wars and thus two jeets in Jeet Ki Zid, the seven part series based on the life of Major Deependra Singh Sengar aka Deep played by Amit Sadh. The first is the victory of the country in Kargil, and the second is more personal, Deep's victory of overcoming his wheelchair-bound battered ego. The tone of the two victories are very different, the first rooted in his victorhood, and the second rooted in victimhood. What connects the two wars is Deep's zid, his oversincere zeal — to self-destruct or succeed. But what also connects the two parts is a kind of storytelling that is too shrill and cloying to be of any possible impact.
In order to tell stories of men doing great things, do we need to paint them only as great men? Depending on your answer to this question, you might find the first half of Jeet Ki Zid insufferable or inadequate. Insufferable because of the screeching tone to everything from proclamation of love to declaration of hate. (Not many people tell you that to harbour this much love for one country, you must harbour that much hate for another country — unchecked patriotism demands you to be as proud as you are hateful) Inadequate because this screeching tone isn't backed by a spine of good storytelling giving us an excuse to root for the victory of Deep.
The show begins on the runup to the Kargil War in 1999. The first we see of Deep, he is underwater, and the camera is behind him, gazing at his body that, like Antonio Banderas' in the first shot of Pain and Glory, uses the underwater respite to remember one's life. The show switches timelines back-and-forth, sometimes flashbacks within flashbacks — establishing the motive of Deep to join the Special Forces and his desire to eradicate terrorism from Kashmir, his arduous, torturous training, and the blossoming of first love. This distracted storytelling would have spelt disaster (as it did with Taish), but in this case it is the only thing keeping the first few episodes alive by constantly shifting the focus of the story. If it were linear, the boredom of these stock caricatures would surely have felt heavier. For an action-packed show, the fight scenes are choreographed quite awfully, rendering neither speed nor sleekness. (There's a moment when the soldiers are looking for top secret documents in the enemy camp, and they find a box labeled with a big, unmissable font- "TOP SECRET") There's a tiredness to all of it. Then, the Kargil War strikes in episode 4 (a brilliant chopper shot is bunged into the severely lacking action sequence), and the tone of the show changes. Deep is left tethered to a wheelchair.
Amit Sadh is stuck in this awfully sketched role, and some of the over-determined over-sincerity in the writing rubs off on his acting, which veers quickly, and uneasily between victim and victor. For example, Deep wants to be in the army to massacre militants only because the militants killed his brother. Between his brother's murder when he was a child and his joining the Special Forces, his life and his personality is not given a second thought. When he meets women, he is so charmless, and not even in the awkward, inconversant way, but like someone whose personality is just their aggression. He rightfully points out that conversation is a skill he wasn't taught.
When he's down in the dumps, incapacitated, he is challenged to sit for the CAT exam, and one music montage later, he is ready and prepared, and one scene-change later, he gets into management school, and 2 scenes later he is placed in a job, and one second later, we are taken 7 years ahead to show how much he has succeeded, getting a corporate promotion, with a god-awful child whose shrillness gives the script a good run for its money. Sadh is too saddled with cliche to do anything but act like one. Three scenes later he doubts if his corporate success is because of their pity or his passion. The way he acts it out, I found it hard to either champion him through his victories or empathize with him through his vulnerabilities. It reaches a screeching crescendo in the last episode, where bad writing and bad acting hold hands like lovers. He gives a motivational speech, but delivers it with such fetid charm, that nothing holds.
Jaya, played by Amrita Puri is a promising character, a mathematics teacher, who then becomes Deep's lover, then Deep's wife, then Deep's saviour. Post-marriage, what she does for a living, or even how she spends her day is not even given a whiff of a thought. Her part of the story is to never be the story, merely aid it. It's hard to not just see this as a subtext to this story but a reality to her entire life. At the end of every episode there are quick snippets of interviews with the real life couple. Jaya often praises paeans or speaks to the pride she feels in being an army-wife, in that space between hope that the country wins and hope that her husband lives, regardless. Of course this might be a matter of pride, but to romanticize this longing feels at odds with how we want to live our lives, with dignity that isn't dependent. The show refuses to reach beyond the cliche, and this includes Sushant Singh who plays a role of the mentor who cannot distinguish between tough love and torture. It's such a weird role, where he insists on men he's training to sleep on slabs of ice before being delivered electric shocks. I would be lying if I said I wasn't rooting for him at times, but that was the sinister reach of the show. To make us believe that these are the kinds of things we, as a civilization, value in men. The capacity to endure torture, and throw grenades at other people, like us, who just had the ill fate of being born on the other side of an arbitrary border.