"Sirf kisiko maar dene se koi aatankwaad nahin hota, daraana, dhamkaana aur kone mein bitha dena bhi aatankwaad hota hai," (Terrorism is not just defined by the act of killing. Torturing, intimidating and cornering someone is also terrorism). This forms the basic premise of Mulk, a film which aims to shake society's consciousness by questioning its notions about nationhood and patriotism, its definition of terrorism and terrorists, and the sheer inability and parochial attitude that renders them unable to identify Islam and terrorism as independent of each other.
Exactly 24 hours before the release of his film, director Anubhav Sinha tweeted "a letter (he wrote) to Pakistan", whose Federal Censor Board has banned its citizens from watching the film. In the letter, he says that ever since the film's trailer released, it garnered strong reactions; while some in India suggested it was way too pro-Muslim, feedback from Pakistan was that the film stereotyped Muslims in a way no other film did. But to anyone and everyone who chose to see the film from the lens of 'us and them,' or pro and anti-Pakistan, Sinha pleaded, "It is about love. About you and about me. Why is it that they do not want you to see the film which talks about co-existence?"
Sinha is right. His film does talk about peaceful co-existence; but not before turning the mirror to the viewer and jolting him out of his seat by exposing his naked bigotry and hate for the Islamic community, which, as in the movie, finds itself at the receiving end of a grisly terrorism plot. By way of its exceptionally strong direction and dialogue delivery, the film makes for a gripping watch, especially the intense courtroom drama which makes for most of its 140-minute reel.
The film opens in the Hindu-dominated city of Benaras (Varanasi) in UP, which is captured beautifully on camera, with special emphasis on the juxtaposition of the two communities—while one side the Muslim's azaan fills in the morning air, at the same time a chant of Ram Naam Satya Hai, echoes in the street below, where a man is taken for cremation. Both the communities are shown to be living together, in utmost harmony, until fissures of communal prejudice tear them apart.
Murad Ali Mohammad (Rishi Kapoor), a reputed lawyer, and his wife (Neena Gupta) along with their family, have always lived amicably among their Hindu neighbours, bonding over songs and dance, kebabs and tons of gossip with their morning chai. Everything seems to be going smooth, when suddenly one learns of Murad Ali's nephew Shahid (Prateik Babbar) falling prey to the influence of an Islamic hardliner and carrying out a suicide bomb attack in a bus from Benaras to Allahabad, causing mayhem. What follows is the family's worst nightmare: public shaming, social ostracisation and unforgiving hours of questioning and interrogations. The family pleads innocence; none of them, including Shahid's father Bilal (Pahwa), his mother Tabassum (Prachee), his sister Ayat (Kumud Mishra) and sister-in-law Aarti (Taapsee Pannu) claim to know anything about Shahid's links with the terror mastermind or with its associate groups.
Yet, the authorities would have none of it. Both Rajat Kapoor, who is every bit believable as the straight-faced cop, and Ashutosh Rana, who gives a compelling performance as a bigoted public prosecutor, commence on an unrelenting chase to prove the family guilty and involved in "the business of terrorism". At this juncture, it is upto Aarti, a lawyer herself, to prove her family's innocence and bring them back their lost dignity and esteem.
The courtroom drama gets a bit theatrical towards the end, but is worth it. The arguments and counter-arguments make one question one's own beliefs and opinions, and touch us at our most primal levels. "Why does a Muslim man's flowing beard give someone the liberty to judge him and equate him to a terrorist?" "Why are we prejudiced towards muslims?" "Why is the word terrorism only attributed to Islamic activities, and not to the number of other killings and tortures and crimes that happen everyday everywhere else?". These and many such questions are addressed in Mulk. A special mention must be given to Manoj Pahwa for essaying the role of Bilal with unmatched finesse. Unless you're shy of talking about things that matter, don't give this a miss.
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Manoj Pahwa, Taapsee Pannu, Ashutosh Rana, Prateik Smit Babbar, Neena Gupta, Rajat Kapoor, Prachee Shah, Kumud Mishra
Rating: 3.5 stars