Once again I am attracted to my favourite cinematic destination-the mofussil towns of Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. And my favourite cinematic recipe- those towns burning with the conflagration of communal conflict.
This film is supposed to be based on the Muzaffarnagar Hindu Muslim riots of 2013, but deviates from showing the rumoured real cause of the riots. Instead it shows the riots to be caused by a one sided love story. The town also has been renamed in the movie to Malihabad. The name of the chief minister of UP has been changed too, though only barely to Mithilesh.
Even before the unrequited love story comes to a gory end, Malihabad sits on a communal tinderbox. Jimmy Shergill plays the stylish leader of the Hindu right wing party that is hell bent on making it’s mark in the town and he and his acolytes duly appear at every occasion that hints at communal antagonism. The most vile of his acolytes is a lame man; lame men are typical villains in Indian stories starting from Shakuni in the ancient epic of Mahabharat.
The antidote to the communal politics of Shergill is played by Ashutosh Rana, a calming sage like figure who has no distinction between caste or religion in his mind, even though he is of a religious bent, thus harking to Mohandas Gandhi. And just like Gandhi, he is shown to lose his life in the midst of communal conflict. Rana has a good looking son (Aniruddh Dave) who has a friendship with the beautiful Suha Gezen, who comes from a Muslim family that has close relations with Rana’s family. And not surprisingly, Aniruddh is in secret love with Suha who does not know about it. But alas!! Suha belongs to someone else, a liberal Muslim (Hiten Tejwani) who does not mind the friendship between Suha and Aniruddh and steers clear of orthodoxy by refusing to keep outward marks of the Muslim religion like beard.
Enter the troublemaker- a Muslim refugee from the communal riots that have occurred in another state (Gujarat) and he has a huge scarred piece of skin on his neck as a mark of those riots. He makes clear his hatred and resentment for Hindus from his entry onwards. He is also in contact with a Muslim fundamentalist leader who is ever ready to stir up trouble in the town and has the stockpile of weapons for that. This refugee makes Suha’s fiancé come to know of Aniruddh’s secret love for Suha, thus stirring up the fiance’s jealousy. And leads him on to a violent confrontation with Aniruddh, which leads to a murder.
Predictably, the entire town goes up in flames as all the communal actors who have been introduced play their predictable parts. The situation goes totally out of control of a sane leader like Rana and Suha is forced to become a refugee in her own land. But the film that was going on very interestingly till now, begins to drag at this point.
Of course, the scenes of violence have been well pictured. Photography of mobs going out of control seem all too real. Houses, vehicles and humans are set on fire. The destruction of the town seems to be total. Victims running for cover from savage mobs chasing them seem really scared. Rabid politicos like the Muslim home minster give inflammatory speeches designed to be rabble rousing for the Islamic crowds. This is matched by Shergill who rouses the Hindu pride and anger among his followers. Both leaders hark to the same theme- of people of their respective religions having been too understanding to the aggressive behaviour of the other. And now the time has come to act- for the brave are the ones who inherit the land or so the leaders say.
Problem is, there seems to be no coherent end to the violence and blood letting. It just drags on purposelessly. Nothing good comes out of the mayhem and the entertainment factor becomes less. The director has tried to make the point that leaders who live by extreme violence also die violent deaths. But not before their propensity for violence has shattered entire regions and spilled innocent blood. However, the mindlessness of the whole violence in the second half makes the audience lose interest and attention. On the other hand, the first half is better and more coherent.
All actors play their roles all too well. Jimmy Shergill looks confidently stylish and urbane taking massages from semi-clad young women and drinking scotch. Ashutosh Rana looks as if he has inherited royal blood and acts in an extremely sophisticated manner. Suha looks so fair and delicate and soft and lovely. Songs and music is good too, all filled with melodious tunes. Worth hearing more than once later.
But the whole film cannot be called a special effort. The director has no solutions to the endless Hindu-Muslim feud. In fact, he feels that fundamentalists of both religions will grab power by flaming sectarianism and will work to mutual benefit . End result being that the feud will go on….
Two and a half stars