Direction & Production: Anubhav Sinha Screenplay: Anubhav Sinha Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Tapsee Pannu, Prateik Babbar, Ashutosh Rana, Manoj Pahwa, Neena Gupta, Prachi Shah, Vartika Singh, Rajat Kapoor, Kumud Mishra Cinematography: Ewan Mulligan Editing: Ballu Saluja Music: Mangesh Dhadke
Hindi / Drama / 140 Mins / India / 2018
For a film which had the potential and possibly the vision of examining the very sensitive issue of ‘us’ and ‘them’ (read Hindus and Muslims) in a balanced manner, Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk tries but feebly. It does, however, make a very powerful case for those who want to believe in its argument. Mulk’s simplistic tenor mouths platitudes against the minority before demolishing the same by portraying a terrorist accused’s family as victim. But first a little background.
Mulk revolves around the story of a young man Shahid (Prateik Babbar) who has gone astray to become a terrorist. He successfully executes a bomb blast killing several. After he is gunned down trying to escape the police net, his father Bilal Mohammad (Manoj Pahwa in a great performance of a simpleton) is taken into custody for questioning. Even as the family tries to come to terms with the loss of a son, they rally to save the father now.
Right in the beginning Mulk takes care of the troublesome part by admitting that the son is a terrorist. Next, it absolves the family for his misdeeds since it was completely ignorant of what he had been upto. So while there is evidence to suggest that he crossed the line over a period of time and operated from home along with a cousin, it is also systematically proved that the family remained unaware of the shift in stance and should not be victimised – they even refuse to claim his body after post-mortem.
Since Sinha wants to drive home the point that Muslims are ‘victims of prejudice’ in this country, his script is split right down the middle – with the prejudiced characters (read Rajat Kapoor as Investigating Officer Danish Javed); prosecution lawyer Santosh Anand (Ashutosh Rana) and Choubeyji as Shahid’s whistleblower neighbor on one side, and Murad Ali Mohammad (Rishi Kapoor in an exemplary performance as head of the family) defence lawyer and family bahu Arati Mohammad (Tapsee Pannu) and Bilal Mohammad (Pahwa) on the other. Kumud Mishra in a special appearance as the judge is the voice of sanity with bits of advice for each one at appropriate moments. Why for instance, is Tapsee’s character Arati a Hindu and not a Muslim? Would a Muslim defending another not lend weight to her character? Or why does Rana’s character Santosh Anand speak only chaste Hindi while the rest make their choices between Hindustani and English? What is the director trying to convey?
Tokenisms are proffered through stereotyping of characters like Shahid (whose character is glossed over and killed to avoid uncomfortable answers on how and what led him to extremism); neighbours refusing to eat at a feast held at Badr Manzil (where the family resides) saying, “Naachne gaane tak to theek hain par hum inke yahan khana nahi khate” (it’s okay to make merry and party with them but we don’t eat food at their place) and Murad Ali reminiscing in an odd moment, “Galti toh humse bhi hui hai (while referring to oversight on part of the family to not see the changes in Shahid). Unfortunately, there is no build up on these moments.
Then there is Danish Javed who meekly accepts the charge that, “This whole case is built on prejudice.” The experienced ATS officer has no answers for why he decided to kill a terrorist rather than arrest him and put him through trial. There is no recalling of the fact that Shahid had fired first on cops instigated by his handler and that cops retaliated in self-defense. There is a mention of ‘do not invoke history to build prejudice. Move on,’ but we are reminded of 2002, 1984 and even 1947. The dice is definitely loaded against those who believe that there is another side to the story.
In an issue-based film, a viewpoint should ideally be balanced not lopsided. Whichever side of the fence one may be there are always two sides and more to any story. When you set out to make a film on ‘truth’ vs ‘justice’ (as one minor character says) you overlook a crucial third angle – that of fact. Truth is subjective, fact is not. So whose truth/reality are you trying to play out? That of the victim or defender of justice and so, how can one be Right and the other Wrong? One may argue that its Sinha’s viewpoint and he is entitled to it (freedom of expression and all that) but how can you ignore ‘facts’ in order to highlight your ‘truths’? How are the two even compatible?
The Paresh Rawal starrer, OMG - Oh My God! is a great example of how an argument plays out against itself. There, an atheist Kanji (Rawal) ends up taking on the whole world for filing a case against God in a court of law. It sounds ludicrous but the fact remains that the atheist, ironically enough, now needs to prove that his business was indeed destroyed by God and he is legitimately staking claim to insurance. In short, he has to invalidate his own beliefs. So, he goes through an entire process of realization of God vs not, before coming to a conclusion.
Not so long ago, Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju was under attack for glossing over Sanjay Dutt’s life story by painting him in a sympathetic light while ignoring facts. He was given a clean chit in his so called ‘biopic’ despite the fact that there was so much more to it than just his sense of victimization. If these are valid examples for basis of discussions then, why not this story? A spirited debate marshalls new insights. It can value add to an important subject in a larger context. Mulk disappoints.
The biggest thing is - there is a prism already in place through which all arguments, debates and dialogues are being viewed today. The atmosphere of uncertainties, anxiety and suspicion that exists in both communities cannot be overlooked. Both are defending their spaces and room must be made for bridging the gap not widening the chasm. Sure, Arati makes a plea to this effect in climax but only after she has scored against her opponents.
A good film at the end of the day should be thought-provoking. Its ideas should linger in your head as they could be harbingers of change. Mulk, very unfortunately, doesn’t take you that far.