There is a dialogue in in the film: ‘Achhi kahaniyaan woh hain jisme tark ho, jo aapko provoke karein to ask why’. That’s precisely my view after watching Sudhir Mishra’s thought-provoking and gripping political drama, Afwaah. Subtly yet strongly, the film turns out to be a social commentary on various things — from the current political scenario in the country, to love jihaad debate to social media rumours coming into play and corrupting the youth. Afwaah is as real and relatable as you would expect a Sudhir Mishra film to be. (Also read: Bheed movie review: Anubhav Sinha’s lockdown tale is a difficult watch that hits you hard)
Set in Sawalpur, a small town in Rajasthan, the film starts with future deputy leader of the ruling party, Vicky Bana aka Vikram Singh (Sumeet Vyas), getting attacked at a political rally. To settle the score, one of his close aides, Chandan (Sharib Hashmi), ends up killing a local. A video of Vicky talking to Chandan and giving some orders goes viral on social media platform called Qwitter (sounds familiar, no?), which reaches Nivedita aka Nivi (Bhumi Pednekar), who is engaged to Vicky. She’s miffed to learn about her fiance Vicky’s bigotry. Though she confronts him and tells him to mend his ways, she eventually decides to run away and that’s when things go out of hand. While trying to evade Vicky’s party workers (read hooligans) who have traced her whereabouts, Nivi meets Rahab Ahmed (Nawazuddin Sidduiqi), who is on his way to Nahargarh Fort to meet his wife, and is crossing that location where the drama is happening. He offers to help to save Nivi, endangering his own life. The two manage to escape in his car but not for too long before their picture goes viral on Qwitter and they are subjected to ‘love jihad’ hatred.
Mishra practices no restraint when it comes to showing the unapologetic prevalence of communalism and feudalism, especially in small towns, and how the power of social media can be exploited at the hands of rich and mighty to spread a rumour. Afwaah is hard-hitting and heartbreaking at the same time. It engages you with its dialogues and the narrative that doesn’t digress much. What I liked the most is that despite having several important messages that the film tries to convey through its characters and events unfolding one after the other, it never sounds preachy.
With actors such as Pednekar, Siddiqui and Hashmi, Afwaah has a strong cast and a nuanced performance from each of them would blow your mind. Vyas is a true revelation. Right from his dialect, body language, mannerisms to the way he emotes anger, love, strength and vulnerability – it’s a surprise package. Pednekar seems to have become a pro at picking just the right script that suits her and knows how to bring the best out of her. After her last outing in Anubhav Sinha’s Bheed, she has taken her performance a notch higher in this film. She is completely in control of her character and delivers her part with so much ease that it almost looks as if she is playing herself. There are times when you’d expect her give up, but she comes back stronger. Even in the scenes with Siddiqui, it’s very brave of Pednekar to hold her ground and not get overpowered by his strong screen presence. Afwaah showcases Siddiqui as this very understated character, who has a lot going around him. I loved the way he is looking in the film with those nerdy glasses, clean shaven and a slightly built-up physique. Hashmi is once again at his best in whatever screen time he gets.
The story that Mishra has co-written with Nisarg Mehta and Shiva Bajpai has its heart at the right place and sticks to the message it intends to send out. There are portions where you’d feel you should have been told a bit more about the back story of that particular character, but the way the scenes are written, performed and shot offer a wholesome experience. Adding to it, Atanu Mukherjee’s editing is crisp and he has experimented quite a bit with juxtaposing different scenes at several places which deserves a special mention. Cinematographer Mauricio Vidal does a good job at capturing the lanes of Sawalpur that bring out the tension and chaos, and the aerial shots of Nahargarh Fort are breathtaking. The way he plays with the lighting adds depth to the storytelling.
Watch Afwaah if you crave content-driven, meaningful films that will make you think, and ask the right questions, and, in some cases, even get inspired to do your bit to bring about a positive change in the society. And if you take it seriously enough, you might just apply wisdom the next time you see a rumour on social media and decide if you really want to believe it.