Director: Bhumi Pednekar, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sumeet Vyas, Sharib Hashmi
Cast: Sudhir Mishra
Rating: 3 Moons
Sudhir Mishra's sensibility regarding the country's political scenario sets him apart from most filmmakers in the Hindi cinema industry. Giving an edge with his subtle yet solid political commentary, he directs Afwaah. The title, which means baseless rumour, revolves around the lives of four people- Nivi (Bhumi Pednekar), Rahab Ahmed (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Vikram a.k.a Vicky Bana (Sumeet Vyas) and Chandan (Sharib Hashmi).
Vicky, an influential political leader, is in love with the political heiress, Nivi. However, an incident changes her perspective on him and forces her to run away to escape a romantic alliance with him. Angered by her rejection, Vicky deploys his 'party members' to bring her back. When the goons are harassing Nivi, Rahab comes to her rescue. But, this puts him into grave trouble. A furious Vicky conspires to spread a false rumour about Nivi and Rahab and instigates people by making a video of them go viral and naming it Love Jihad. Afwaah also touches upon the perennially hot topic of beef sale/'smuggling' in the country.
Through Afwaah, Sudhir tells a timely, relevant and grim story of intolerance and arrogance that comes with political power. A story of power-craze and greed, the film also sheds light on the evil effects of social media that shape the careers of politicians. Rumours work like an imaginary needle that injects false narratives into the brains of the less-exposed illiterate class. While Nivi and Rahab's plot point forms the core of the story, there is Chandan's tale of escaping death that adds edge and sharpness to the film. When these two points meet, Afwaah soars.
The expectation that Afwaah will entertain the audience will be crashed in the first hour of the film. Sudhir's primary intention isn't to make you feel cosy but to surprise you and make you feel uncomfortable with the kinds of proceedings that are highlighted. The film isn't meant to look bright. Shedding light on the country's ministerial dominance and how they have a lasting impression on the public negatively, the filmmaker tells a poignant story.
The film is quick to remind you of the 2015 Dadri lynching in which a mob of villagers killed 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq for suspicion of slaughtering a cow. It paints a horrific picture of how a local politician has the power to tailor facts and people trapped in the web of believing in rumours buy it without a single thought. It goes without saying that a Sudhir Mishra film is hard-hitting, important and a conversation starter. Afwaah is no different. Having said so, there are moments that are unexciting.
While Afwaah makes for a great watch in the second half when the film's politics deepens, the first half is dull. There's no resonance with the characters and the flow of the story seems convenient. The film gets into the right gear when all the loose ends begin tying up. Despite an effort to make an intelligent film, it suffers from routine twists. The climax does surprise you though.
Afwaah has a stellar cast and every actor does a fantastic job. Bhumi Pednekar's striking presence as the political heiress Nivi is one of the strongest pillars of the film. The sternness she possesses, in reel and real, reflects brilliantly on screen. As the catalyst of the story, Bhumi's Nivi is someone who inspires, aspires and leads the path to a better future. With her head held high and feet grounded, Nivi is calm in the storm. Bhumi is instantly likeable in the role and she leaves behind an impact that cannot be erased quickly.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui pulls off the role of Rahab with equal finesse and poise. The desperation and eagerness of Rahab to get out of the trap are visible through the actor's body language. Sumeet Vyas will make you hate Vicky Bana. As a cunning and manipulative politician, the actor is phenomenal. It is one of his career-defining roles.
Sharib Hashmi steals the show as Chandan, a local hitman who finds himself trapped in a web laid by his master, Vicky Bana. He pulls off a complex and layered character by adding touches of vulnerability and innocence. Brainwashed into believing everything that Vicky says, Chandan is a character that will stay alive for many years to come.
Afwaah has a haunting background score that fits the atmosphere of the film correctly. The cinematography is good. The editing is crisp and the runtime doesn't hurt. Afwaah is a film for the classes, if not entirely for the masses. It delves deeper into reality and holds a mirror to the political intolerance that's ruined the lives of millions.
PeepingMoon gives Afwaah 3 Moons