State of Siege Temple Attack movie review: Akshaye Khanna’s ZEE5 thriller is stuck in a bygone era

Jul 09, 2021 10:51 PM IST

State of Siege Temple Attack movie review: Director Ken Ghosh fictionalises a deadly terrorist attack for his movie, starring Akshaye Khanna.

On paper, or shall we say, ‘in the opening slide of your ZEE5 screen’, the Akshaye Khanna-starrer State of Siege: Temple Attack is a fictional story, not bearing deliberate resemblance to any events or persons, living or dead. But through the course of its first 30 mins, director Ken Ghosh tries every trick in the book to let you know that he has made a film about the 2002 Akshardham Temple attack in Gandhinagar.

State of Siege Temple Attack movie review: Akshaye Khanna plays a soldier in the movie.
State of Siege Temple Attack movie review: Akshaye Khanna plays a soldier in the movie.

News bulletins screech about peace in Gujarat after the deadly riots, mentions of ‘Rajya Shining’ are made, and the state CM (played by Samir Soni) uses the word ‘saathiyon’ to address his audience. In the times we live in, it is not too hard to imagine why the director or producers would want to take a safer, less ‘sentiment-hurting’ route. However, the fictionalisation does not end on this rather harmless note.

It was reported at the time that as many as 30 civilians were gunned down by terrorists during the Akshardham attack. However, for the Krishna Dham temple attack in State of Siege, that number was apparently too low to make an impact. So, a rather insensitive decision to up the body count is taken in the film. To add to the villainy of the terrorists, a hostage crisis is also thrown into the mix, with a particularly slimy villain making terrified kids sing religious hymns for him. While the sequence adds little terror, the cringe goes through the roof.

Watch State of Siege: Temple Attack trailer:

However, things aren't always this bad. State of Siege begins on a promising note, with an opening sequence set in the picturesque hills of the Kupwara District in J&K, at a make-believe Indo-Pak border. Akshaye Khanna plays Major Hanut Singh, the man running a mission to extract a minister’s kidnapped daughter. There are some great visuals in this scene, some atmospheric sound design, and a slow-burn pace that steadily increases as the stakes rise. In more good news, the extras don't act like they are in a TV commercial.

The cinematography and the performances take a plunge when the action moves to the Gujarat temple. Acquaintances are made with characters that will potentially be captured or murdered. From the temple guide to the priest, to the woman visiting the temple with her entire family, not one character seems to belong to our planet. Absolutely everyone is acting extra-happy about their lives. Anyway, none of these gleeful people have been given much thought in the script, by William Borthwick and Simon Fantauzzo. The are all unimaginably decent, just in case you were wondering if they deserve to die.

Hanut Singh is one of only two characters that are not written as uni-dimensional beings. When his mission from the opening sequence ends poorly, it gives him a reason to prove himself in whatever assignments follow. The other is Gautam Rode’s soldier #2, awaiting the birth of his first baby, but called to duty before he can see her face.

Akshaye Khanna delivers a satisfying enough performance as the steely senior soldier, ridiculed by a junior only to ultimately earn his respect. However, it would be a stretch to say that he has been given his due. Someone of his calibre could have accomplished more had the writing been more complex.

Also read: 1962 The War in the Hills review: Hotstar owes us a Vacation in the Hills for suffering through Abhay Deol's awful show

Ken Ghosh tries to bring more balance to the movie, by introducing some good Muslims and a traitorous Hindu into the mix. But the attempt is so on-the-nose, it leaves you feeling more disappointed. A Muslim sweeper at the temple launches into a speech about shared humanity, with the subtlety of Nana Patekar making up a Hindu-Muslim blood cocktail on his hand.

The 2002 attack was a gruesome blot on the history of our country. 30 lives were lost. No Bollywood masala film should be allowed to say it was too little, too bland.

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    Soumya Srivastava is Entertainment Editor at Hindustan Times. She writes about movies and TV because what else is there to life anyway.

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