"What happens if the faction of Indians who do not believe in democracy (naxals) join hands with our neighbors who don't want democracy in India?"
This in a sentence is the basic premise of the Red Jihad. "Interesting" and "intriguing" are two words which immediately pop in your consciousness like bubble wrap. And Sami Ahmad does an almost decent job at executing the premise. It is very evident that Sami has spent a LOT of time researching things and all the time and effort comes through in the text when you are reading about the detailed weaponry which the characters use. And I say this because it is no mean feat for anybody to go through scores of online and offline resources to get your facts right. And this is where the good bit stops.
Red Jihad opens up with a young boy sneaking out of the house to play cricket, only to have his cricket pitch bombed by the Americans. The book then quickly and rapidly presents a story which is unnerving and if given enough thought may actually be plausible in the near future. As the story then quickly moves on to India developing an ICBM, rogue elements getting the hands on it and then declaring war. And then like the cliché goes, all hell breaks lose.
Yes, the story is action packed. Yes the story is fast paced. But, does it have a hero? No. An anti-hero? No. Any characters I found who got me to invest in them and inconspicuously ride along with them as they go about thwarting the dastardly evil schemes to ruin everything we know and hold dear? No. Sami Ahmad Khan’s story has several characters. And when I say several, I mean you cannot keep count of them on your finger tips. Characters come, they die. Some stay on to play small but significant roles. I understand that Sami Ahmad wanted to play on the whole everybody is both good and bad at the same time and everybody is grey all the time. But… There were such crippling character inadequacies and inconsistencies that I found myself rolling my eyes. India has a young prime minister who shows some cajones and stands up against the political system and gives out a diktat to the rest of the state ministries to either tread his way or the highway. But soon enough, he is seen to be somebody who is hungry for power and acts like a complete nincompoop. There is a general who has just successfully executed a coup, addresses the nation and then thinks about playing golf. All this while there is a nuclear threat looming in the background. The US is seen to be caught completely off guard about the nuclear threat OR the coup, despite the public address to the nation. These were just some of the character inconsistencies which kept rankling in my head while I ploughed through the story. And then there is the whole issue of the dialogues which the characters spout. They fuse with one another and then merge into the narrative. All the characters seem to have read the same set of books, spout lines from same philosophers, and basically seem to have an IQ of well above 140s. Which is sad because the story could have done with some gaali galoch, default nature clashing with environment. And I guess this was primarily due to the lack of character development and structural problems.
If you ask me, Red Jihad is like state of the art CGI effects wala movie, much like Ra.One. Only difference is that it is made like the final credit sequence of Om Shanti Om and guest appearances in the title song. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Ra.One, Om Shanti Om and Red Jihad (both the story and the premise. Well to be honest, I loved Om Shanti Om).
Maybe this is just me crying over what a great story Red Jihad could have been. I guess it is because of the fact that I am quite used to the age old formula of a hero and villain, dialogues which breathe soul into the characters, and characters making me wanting to care for them. And maybe it was my own myopic view that hindered the immersion in this story. I do hope that Sami Ahmad Khan reads more and writes more.