Unheard Review: An innovative storytelling experiment that passes muster
 
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Critics Review
Unheard Review: An innovative storytelling experiment that passes muster

The show, directed by KV Aditya and produced by Radhika Lavu of Ellanar Films, dissects various dimensions of the Indian freedom struggle

3.0
Srivathsan Nadadhur
Sep 17, 2021
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Story:

Unheard is a conversational web show that presents life through the eyes of an average Hyderabadi, their contrarian perspectives on the Indian freedom struggle unfolding between the early 1900s and 1948. The show voices the views of its various characters on freedom, violence, ahimsa, democracy and politics in a pre-Independent India. Each of the characters represents a different dimension of the freedom struggle. 

While a foreign-educated Dr Chalapathi (Bala Aditya) doesn't believe that the struggle for independence is necessary, Padma (Chandini Chowdary) is a young Gandhian and a firm advocator of a non-violent path in her ambition to see a free India. Badri (Priyadarshi) believes raising the voice is imperative for a better tomorrow, whereas Mallesh (Ajay) is a first world-war veteran who's tired of war and bloodshed. Anwar (Srinivas Avasarala) has secular ideals, is a Nizam sympathiser who dreams of an independent Hyderabad, but his politician friend Ahmed (Jay Jha) has sharp views on religious identity. A jailer Satyanarayana (Ananda Chakrapani) is caught between doing justice to his employer and being a villain to his country's patriots.

Analysis:

Unheard, written and directed by KV Aditya, is an innovative experiment in exploring an under-discussed dimension to the Indian struggle. The show's plot may be abstract but its main intent is to shed light on the various perspectives of the ordinary citizens in Hyderabad, affected by the various developments in a British-ruled nation. The show brings forth the two-sided conflict faced by the city's residents in the 1900s, who had to face the wrath of the British and its ally, the Nizams equally. 

Spanning six episodes, Unheard is more so a bunch of conversations staged between characters of diverse ideologies. The show has an alternative take on the core purpose of the visual medium - which is a tool to show and not tell. The episodes are driven by heavy-duty dialogue, while the visual element remains basic, making you wonder if it would have worked as a stage drama more than a web series. A brief voiceover in every episode, aided by animation, provides a context to the country's political situation. 

While dealing with a different decade across every episode, the chaste dialogue is filled with several intriguing references to the era. Be it the significance of Spanish flu in triggering Hyderabadis to push for a free India or Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu laying a foundation for the film industry in Madras or even a critical take on the film adaptation of the popular novel Barrister Parvateesam, several anecdotes enrich the dialogue from time to time. The format of the show, though largely verbose, is fresh and works well as a form of edutainment.

A medico Chalapathi remains the common link across most of the episodes, as he comes to terms with the various ideologies of a few Gandhians, a Bhagat Singh follower, a Nizam sympathiser and a jailer in the city. The scenarios are interesting, say the conversations between a world war veteran and a jailer, a Bhagat Singh-loyalist and a hard-core Gandhian, a politician with a communal agenda and a secular Nizam sympathiser. It takes us back to a time when people could hold contrasting views on the same issue and still not tear into each other. 

There's no space for trivialities in Unheard. The show deals with fiercely opinionated characters driven by ambition and a purpose. Even in the case of a few characters whose agenda may not be exactly noble, the show doesn't make them look like a villainous caricature and instead gets into their headspace honestly. The conversational tone facilitates discussions of various other oft-ignored aspects in the freedom struggle, including the problems associated with the Gandhian approach, Bhagat Singh's beliefs in atheism, the fragility of democracy, to name a few. The show's finale though, claiming to be a tribute to the spirit of Hyderabad, ends rather abruptly. 

As a director, KV Aditya is a talent to watch out for. The writer Aditya sparkles more than the director Aditya here, and the show would've registered a stronger impact had the dialogues been slightly less indulgent. Unheard bombards the audiences with too much information and instead could've worked on upping the dramatic quotient of the story more. The up-and-coming cinematographer Abhiraj Nair proves his mettle yet again in using the many metaphorical elements in the frame to complement the dialogues. Naresh Kumaran's music plays its part in adding zip to the narrative.

In terms of performances, Bala Aditya is charismatic, matured and composed while charting the transformation of his character across ages. His Telugu diction is a delight to the senses. The other surprise is a masterfully restrained Ajay, who brings forth a new dimension to his acting repertoire with a subtle yet stellar performance. Chandini Chowdary not only looks her part but also reflects the inner strength of the character remarkably in a confident act as a Gandhian. Priydarshi continues to reinvent himself as an actor and so does Srinivas Avasarala, who delivers chaste Urdu dialogues with ease. Jay Jha's assured screen presence and the worldly wisdom in the eyes of Ananda Chakrapani add depth to the show.

Verdict:

Unheard is a laudable experiment at a conversational web series that elaborates on Hydederabad's contribution towards the Indian freedom struggle. The show has sparkling performances from its lead cast and is a feast for those who enjoy heavy-duty, chaste dialogue. Its verbose nature may make it slightly monotonous but the takeaways are quite significant in comparison.

Rating: 3/5

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