This is not fence-sitting cinema. Writer-director Sudhir Mishra and his team of co-writers (Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann, Shiva Shankar Bajpai, Nisarg Mehta) are clear which side of the political battle they support.
In a well-told, supposedly fictional tale set in the land of camels and dust (as the introductory shot indicates), battle lines are drawn:
On one side: A tilak-sporting, blood-lusty Chandan (Sharib Hashmi), lackey to politician Vikram (Vicky) Singh (Sumeet Vyas) who incites the minority electorate with hate speeches that go, ‘Saiyam kaise rakkhe jab sar pe mootte hai?’ Vicky’s on the election trail in a Muslim area, there’s a gathbandhan happening with the blessings of Delhi, orchestrated stone pelting and violent butchering ensue. The ruthless are tilakwalas sporting names like Chandan, Vikram, Gyan Singh (the boss in Delhi) and Tomar (Sumeet Kaul), a killer-cop who’s sleeping with a female policewoman (TJ Bhanu) and treating her quite despicably. Uniformly wicked, blood-spilling politicians and law-keepers who feed on the frenzy of beef and love jihad, use spin-doctors to whip up fervour by sparking off social media rumours, and watch without a twitch when it flares up into a communal conflagration.
On the other side: Humorous, self-deprecating US-returned Rahab Ahmed (Nawazuddin Siddique), ad filmmaker and motivational speaker who’s back to his land of origin, choosing not to live the life of a second-class citizen in another country. The message is clear: Rahab belongs to this land and making him seem like an intruder in his own country is unacceptable. A chilled-out Muslim who doesn’t remember when he last prayed the namaaz, Rahab has a wife called Nandita and largely minds his own business. But chivalry draws him into the hellhole of love jihad politics.
Vicky’s reluctant fiancée Nivedita (Bhumi Pednekar), “Gyan Singh ki beti” as she’s frequently referred to, has run away from the hateful communal politics of her family. Rahab is the gentleman caught in a war that’s not of his making.
In the raised tempers and calls for many killings that follow, the bigots are vanquished while the minorities re-discover and proudly flaunt their religious identity.
With ‘hukum’ in the dialogue and the many visuals of the state, Sudhir sets his story in Rajasthan and shoots off a slew of political messages. A line about ‘dharam ka palan’ and ‘dangal’ replacing ‘development’ is unambiguous about who it’s aimed at.
While chaos reigns, a lit fest with the elite goes on undisturbed, Rahab’s wife who’s in the front row, unaware of what’s happening outside to her husband. Couched in the climax is another message: lit fest organisers bow to political power. Hey, freedom of expression, you’re in danger.
Sudhir Mishra also consciously makes today’s imperative hat-tip to the power of women as Nivedita prevails over dad and thugs. Even the policewoman-girlfriend finally has Tomar in her grip.
The actors are well cast. Nawazuddin Siddique who excelled in Mishra’s last film Serious Men, once again comes up trumps as Rahab, the innocent minority gent victimised by politicians of one colour. Bhumi Pednekar, Sumeet Vyas, Kaul and Bhanu give credence to Sudhir’s story.
‘Aaj yeh basant’ (sung by Sunetra Banerjee and composed by Shameer Tandon) lyrically and musically sums up a lot of what Sudhir wants to convey.
Mishra signs off with donkeys emerging from a truck – politicians who fear monger with beef and love jihad are making an ass out of the public. More than the unpredictable cinema halls, this is probably safe fare for an OTT platform. But do we have a problem with Sudhir Mishra’s stark political leanings which he unabashedly showcases in his cinema? The 3* appreciation should answer that because hey, you know what? Freedom of expression is alive and kicking in this country. If anything otherwise is being hard-pedalled by a group of whiners, take it as just another afwaah.
Watch the trailer of Afwaah:
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