Synopsis – An advertising professional and a political heiress whose lives are upended by a viral social media rumor.
My Take – With propaganda films being the flavor of the season as the elections continue in full swing, this latest from director Sudhir Mishra (Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi, Khoya Khoya Chaand) and co-producer Anubhav Sinha (Thappad, Bheed) acts as a perfect antithesis. Mainly as it explores the hazards and consequences of rumors and fake news, especially in the age of social media, and how politicians use such resources to push their agenda, manipulate public opinion, all in the name of progress.
On surface, the film plays like a road thriller, but makes for a perfect representation of what our Indian society has been witnessing recently. The film revolves around the consequences and chaos which are given birth to after a rumor hits the wall of streets, near to elections. The film keeps your minds engaged in it throughout, while also throwing light on reality, and how a rumor could turn be hazardous in many aspects.
The film written by Sudhir Mishra, Nisarg Mehta and Shiva Bajpai underlines how easily people believe and share information that reinforces their biases without verifying the facts. What is most horrific depicted here is the fact that the kind of rumors shown and their outcomes are something we read almost every day in the news. To realize that what we are watching on screen is not imagination but harsh reality is what will hit one at the core.
In its 122 minute long narration, it puts you right in between its hustling characters and lets you experience the turmoil of living in a state where politics means opportunism and religion means social divisiveness. This one is riveting cinema. Riveting and incredibly relevant.
The story follows Rahab Ahmed (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a top advertising professional who has returned to work in India after a successful stint in the US. Passing through his hometown on his way to a literary festival where a book authored by his wife (Eisha Chopra) is scheduled for release, finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A couple of hours ago, Vicky Bana (Sumeet Vyas), an aspiring politician and power-hungry bigot incited a crowd with an incendiary speech and organized an attack on his rally with the help of his right-hand man, Chandan Singh (Sharib Hashmi). But when Chandan’s brutal attack on a butcher is caught on camera and broadcast on all news channels simultaneously, Vicky and his party’s reputation, which is owned by his prospective father-in-law, are completely ruined.
His actions mostly affect his fiancée and political heiress Nivedita ‘Nivi’ Singh (Bhumi Pednekar), who due to her dislike towards dirty politics decides to make a run for it, than marry him. However, when she finds herself trying to fight off a bunch of Vicky’s armed men, Rahab intervenes, oblivious of the risk involved, earning the ire of the politician. And when a ‘love jihad’ rumor linking the two begins to float around, the two find themselves sucked into life-threatening situations as the night wears on.
From then on, the film plays out like a taut political thriller, with story primarily revolving around how the two navigate their way out of this messy and complicated situation while the entire town sets to hunt them down. As drab as it may seem on paper, the plot is relevant and made interesting by Sudhir Mishra‘s direction.
The cinematic auteur keeps us hooked to see what the outcome of spreading such rumor would be. He is also behind the dialogues and the screenplay and maintains his hold on the script consistently. Not a moment on-screen feels drab or stretched. Sure, the build-up could have been shortened, but everything shown is beautifully bound in the story.
The makers show their deep understanding of the contemporary world. They bring nuance to the storytelling and keep the characters layered. The film doesn’t make any direct reference to real incidents. However, there are several powerful scenes that are chilling reminders of true cases where vigilante violence was triggered by unverified news and rumors.
They take substantiated jibe on the WhatsApp universities, the paid trolls, meme-makers, and the social media armies aided by political parties to serve their agendas.
It also helps that he is backed by an excellent cast. Nawazuddin Siddiqui brings in a restrained turn yet delivering the much-needed impact. He carries a certain ease and spontaneity within himself while portraying the character, without overdoing his part. He delivers a muted performance when need be. Bhumi Pednekar shines with her bold and cocky attitude, which contrasts sharply with Nawaz‘s demeanor.
Sumeet Vyas and Sharib Hashmi skillfully portray their roles, and bring in unlikely performances that keep you on the edge of your seat. In supporting roles, Eisha Chopra, TJ Bhanu and Sumit Kaul are also highly effective. On the whole, ‘Afwaah’ is an exceptionally gripping thriller which hits close to reality.
Directed – Sudhir Mishra
Starring – Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bhumi Pednekar, Sumeet Vyas
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 122 minutes