Director: Sudhir Mishra
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bhumi Pednekar, Sumeet Vyas, Sharib Hashmi, TJ Bhanu
Writer-director Sudhir Mishra, known for his rooted, stark kind of cinema, makes another bold stride in Afwaah. His intervention on the current times, when a rumour can lead to mob lynching, tarnish reputation and work as an effective tool in political gimmickry, he sets his story in the fictional town of Sawalpur in the imagined state of Western Province.
The story charts the journey of a young politician, Vicky Bana (Sumeet Vyas), and his fiancée Nivi (Bhumi Pednekar). Aiming big in political circuits, Bana’s rally takes the communal hue and conscientious Nivi would have none of it. Daughter of a mighty politician, she wants the goon punished and as Bana struggles to choose between his ambitions and saving his strong-armer, Nivi takes off.
The feisty runaway girl gets support in a passerby, Rahab Ahmed (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Incidentally, the videos from the rally and Nivi running with Rahab go viral and Bana, with the help of a social media expert Bobby (Appurv Gupta), weaves another plot. As a mode of damage control, the issue is projected as ‘love jihad’ and the video is made viral. Communal tension breaks out and the duo on the run mingle with other sub-plots leading to another afwaah!
The film no doubt holds the mirror to society in which a large number believe the ‘doctored’ truth of viral videos. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who earlier collaborated with the director in Serious Men, is known for his craft. A saleable ad man to a coward who runs away instead of helping the victim of a racist attack to a man who pleads for mercy when under threat, he delivers a fine performance. He, however, wouldn’t leave Nivi’s side even when she’s shot. He gives his all to reach Nahargarh Fort where his wife Nandita (Esha Chopra) is launching her book and where he hopes to find protection.
For this outing, Mishra finds his rebel heroine in Bhumi. Born in a political and patriarchal set up, this Nivi has her ideals in place and ready to fight it out even though her biggest strength is that she is ‘Gyan Singh ki beti’! Bhumi plays her part well. The film has some superb performances—TJ Bhanu as young cop Riya Rathod, Sumit Kaul as Inspector Sandeep Tomar, Sharib Hashmi as Chandan Singh and Appurv Gupta as maverick social media whizkid Bobby.
Music is earthy and carries the flavour of the land well. DOP Mauricio Vidal captures Rajasthan well, specially the Nahargarh Fort sequence beautifully.
The film, however, makes things too farcical at points. Like the one with the runway girl flailing and fighting at the city Ghantaghar as her fiancée’s goons request her with folded hands to return home. When on the run, why would she end up at the city’s centre point, one asks. And right from politicians to cops to so-called literary luminaries are all not just villainous but also stupid. Four times decorated cop Tomar gets the target wrong, twice. Agreed, Chandan is the poster boy of misogyny and even after twists and turns he would lick the feet of his master than reform, which doesn’t register well. All cops, all politicians and all authors and dignitaries at the literary fest believe the love jihad viral video than hear the plea of a man in distress. The audience breaking into applause as an injured man ends up the performance on stage gets ludicrous. The gadhas in the truck, however, sure derives the point home!
We are a multi-faith society, no denying there are communal tensions but asking each time if ‘you would like to go to my friends house, his name is ‘Saif’ or would she ‘take a ride in a truck because the driver is ‘Bashir’ or wouldn’t sell a car to a ‘Muslim’ dealer seem far too stretched. Also, a mother asking her cop daughter, on occasions more than once, to keep sleeping with her superior so that he can afford her ‘expenses’ comes across as crass. Muslims shown as just victims who are being cut like gajar muli – Afwaah takes thing to an extreme. The second part is also stretched a bit even though the duration of the film is little over two hours.
What works, however, is the end. The two girls take life in their hands and lord over the misled men. The poetic justice offers some solace to hopeful hearts who still believe things are tough but not out of hand!