Sudhir Mishra is back in form with a film that has a lot of unexplored anger and resentment swimming underneath. The surface tension is killing Nivi, the conflicted fiancée of a bigoted political opportunist, who must take a life-changing call: remain a cow in her ambitious husband’s shed or run. Nivi chooses the latter option.
In Afwaah, Sudhir cranes his neck out of a truck that is probably carrying contraband goods. We suspect it to be one thing, but it turns out to be donkeys which come out braying at the end. This is the only humorous moment in a film that is grim tense and ceaselessly exploratory and never preachy.
In the smoothly political language of an auteur on a night out for dark adventures, Sudhir Mishra writes out a celluloid exposition on religious intolerance and political opportunism. Sumeet Vyas is pitch-perfect as the roguish political leader who won’t stop at anything , even using his fiancé for political mileage.
Vyas’ Vicky Bana has team of hardcore criminals to track down his absconding fiancée. The Bana sena won’t stop at anything either. Director Sudhir Mishra pulls back to look at these politically empowered goons with amazement. His gaze falls especially on Sharib Hashmi as an unquestioning henchman who follows his monster… sorry, master’s orders blindly until a fatal incident leaves him confused.
While the politics of green and saffron runs through the film with a frenetic force, this is also a kind of a road movie, a very twisted road movie no doubt, where two strangers are thrown together(literally) when one of them is attacked.
Nivi and Rahab are not meant to be together. A recently returned NRI, Rahab, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is supposed to be attending a fancy literary festival with his sophisticated wife. Nivi? She is not meant to be out on the dangerous roads of Haryana with a Muslim stranger.
As played by Bhumi Pednekar Nivi is a woman won’t be silenced by brute force and won’t let the stranger who saved her life, be killed. There is another strong woman,a lady cop played by T J Bhanu, who is waiting to strike against patriarchal tyranny when the time is right.
The characters in Afwaah are all sitting on explosives, waiting to blow up and be scattered into pieces that blow wherever the wind goes. It is not a film free of its flaws. The stiff juxtaposition of the stage performances at a literary festival and the violence just outside their insulated doors , seems a little too much of a metaphor in a film filled with the smoking rage of a viral video on those who perpetrate violence in the name of religion.
It is not a rumour that Afwaah is a ballsy gripping thriller. This is one rumour that is true.