Khuda Haafiz (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – A newly married couple’s life falls in jeopardy when the wife goes missing under mysterious circumstances.

My Take – With controversy surrounding nepotism reaching unseen heights, if there is one film that, amidst the lack of basis or not, has definitely benefited by finding astounding buzz is this Faruk Kabir (who starred and directed 2010’s Allah Ke Banday) directed film which released on Disney+ Hotstar. Mainly as it stars Vidyut Jammwal, a trained martial art expert and a relative outsider who despite proving his mettle as one of Hindi cinema’s finest action heroes since his debut as an antagonist in the fairly successful Force (2011), continues to be evaded from the spotlight.

While my first ripe with the film came when I realized that this was just going to be another Hindi film which shows the Middle East in a poor light, with skin trade and kidnapping being an open and common business, however, knowing that Vidyut was also going to go full Liam Neeson (Taken style) on these so called Arabic speaking criminals, I left my revulsion slide.

But the biggest mistake writer-director Faruk Kabir does here is, in order to keep the authenticity of playing an ordinary man (that’s my guess), that he makes Vidyut‘s action-skills take a back seat, hereby making all my expectations out the window. Though it is nice to see him look boyish in some scenes in contrast with the all-muscle man he usually plays and try his hand at something different after the brutal fisticuffs in the likes of the motley Commando series, but the screenplay isn’t as sharply written to keep us engaged without the expected combat display.

Sure, the film checklists almost everything from a simple premise, romance, thrills, a neat yet expected twist and some unintentional humor, but it just ends up lacking. And instead feels more of a lost potential that just meant well, but never acted upon it.

The story follows Sameer (Vidyut Jammwal), a young software engineer running his own little service center in Lucknow, who falls head over heel in love with Nargis (Shivaleeka Oberoi) upon their first meeting via arranged marriage. While the two quickly tie the knot, and settle into their working lives, the 2008 world recession hit also renders them soon jobless. With three months passing by and no quality prospects in hand, desperately the two decide to apply for work visa via a recruitment agency for a bunch of supposed well-paying jobs in the Sultanate of Noman, a fictional country in the Middle East.

However, as Nargis’ visa arrives first, she despite never stepping out the city, decides to travel alone, to which Sameer hesitantly agrees. But Sameer’s world turns into a nightmare when he receives a call from a panic-stricken Nargis who confirms that they have been duped and then disappears without any trace. Fearing the worst, Sameer quickly follows and seeks out help from the local police and the Indian embassy, however when he realizes that their bureaucracy is taking too much time, he finds a dedicated ally in Usman Hamid Ali Murad (Annu Kapoor), a Pathan taxi driver, and sets out to find his wife in the foreign country on his own.

The most surprising aspect of the script (probably the only) is how it blends religious identities in the leads’ background, through their fluid names, their marriage rituals – both Hindu and Muslim, her parents’ mixed marriage and certain small gestures they make throughout the film.

While one might have expected this film to portray how a desperate husband turns into a one man army reminiscent of the over the top Baaghi 3, here, director Faruk Kabir sticks to keeping Sameer an ordinary man with basic intelligence. And on the rare occasion that he lashes out, it is suggested that his mission gives him strength. His moves are those of an untrained civilian rather than the martial arts expert or commando that Jammwal is usually called upon to portray.

Though the film is not exactly low on action, only certain sequences manage to stand out, especially the one which sees Sameer and Nargis surrounded by around 20-30 goons in a narrow alley. The agility that he shows here while kicking, stabbing criminals is impressive. The slick production also does a good job of conjuring up Noman out of nowhere. In the early portions, Sameer’s struggle to find the equivalent of a needle in a haystack appear credible, as does his agony over Nargis’s fate and his frustration at the slow pace of the investigation.

Another interesting aspect director Faruk Kabir throws in here is by overturning the stereotype of an oppressed Muslim woman in a Muslim country in the form Tamena Hamid (Aahana Kumra), a hijab-wearing senior Nomani ISA operative, who gets a substantial action scene in which she fights one man to protect another. And while the absence of implausible heroics and Muslim stereotyping is a relief, director Faruk Kabir fails to keep the film engaging. Each twist is visible from a mile and the overall effect is unexciting.

Even though the plot of the film is quite dark, the situations around Nargis’ abduction end up being somewhat funny especially when you take into consideration the ineptitude of the government in finding her, for example the rather silly build-up to the prayer scene in the desert. Every character barring Sameer is weakly written, especially Nargis, who is completely sidelined once her romance with Sameer is established through precisely one conversation and one song within the first 15 minutes. Nargis is the motivation for everything Sameer does in the film but since it is hard to invest in her, it becomes hard to invest in his motivations too, which makes it hard to be emotionally invested in the film as a whole.

Performance wise, Vidyut Jamwwal’s attempt to become more of a wholesome actor is sincere and likable, and like I mentioned above, Shivaleeka Oberoi doesn’t have much to do here, however plays the part best of her abilities. Annu Kapoor completely embraces being a Pathan, and brings out his natural charisma and talent making him a delight to watch.

Though Shiv Pandit has a meaty role, and seems sincere throughout, his accent proves distracting. The same goes for Aahana Kumra, who tries her best to rise above the listless direction here and barely manages. On the whole, ‘Khuda Haafiz’ is an average one-time watch action thriller that is let down by its substandard writing.

Directed – Faruk Kabir

Starring – Vidyut Jammwal, Shivaleeka Oberoi, Annu Kapoor

Rated – TVMA

Run Time – 133 minutes

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