Afwaah is a Hindi movie currently playing in cinemas across the UAE. It is Directed by Sudhir Mishra and stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bhumi Pednekar, Sumeet Vyas, Sharib Hashmi, TJ Bhanu, Rockey Raina, Eisha Chopra
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Sudhir Mishra, as a director, has never shied away from taking up politically sensitive issues. His previous movies, Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin and Hazaron Khwahishein Aisi took up the subject of youth in political activism. His previous film Serious Men, in a sense, dealt with the manipulation of events through mainstream media and social media.
In Afwaah, he commingles politics and social media in a powder keg for typical, somewhat predictable, explosive stuff. The story that primarily happens in one night throws some solid punches at how viral tweets and fake WhatsApp news can set dangerous narratives in a country where the public is mostly (kept) gullible.
Though the title Afwaah, which means rumour, does not convey the diabolic nuance in the kind of news twisting that is sought to be done through social media platforms.
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The story is set around Rahab Ahmad (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a US-based ad professional, but currently in India and Nivedita Singh (Bhumi Pednekar), the daughter of a politician and is about to tie the knot with an ambitious young politico Vikram (Sumeet Vyas) — it is to be a political marriage, in all its meaning.
Things go into a whirligig when Vikram’s election meeting ensues in a bloody brawl and raucous rioting. A murder happens, and it is caught on camera — all reminiscent of some real-life political events in India — and this jolts Nivedita as she wants to escape the impending marriage to Vikram. She flees from her home with Vikram’s men in pursuit. As it happens, she runs into Rahab, who tries to help her. A Muslim man trying to save a woman from another religion is twisted as a ‘Love jihad’ story.
The IT cell of Vikram’s party gets down to dirty tricks, and all manner of news is planted and spread, and the entire political rally riot is hijacked and distracted by the freshly foisted play of events. And Vikram tries to make his man Friday Chandan (Sharib Hashmi) the fall guy for all the fiasco. But Chanda also escapes. So Vikram’s are in pursuit of two different sets of people. It all makes for some nervy, complex climax.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as the urban Muslim, who naively gets caught in a larger political battle, is on point. He brings to the fore the confusion of a man unsure what has hit him. Bhumi Pednekar, as a woman, who is sucked into a political vortex, is assured as a woman who is not assured. As a victim of patriarchy, she gives her vulnerability a veneer of reality.
But the supporting cast steals the march over the leads. Sumeet Vyas is splendid as the seemingly suave politico who is at home in South Delhi parties but is all venal and selfish inside. This kind of villainy is so relatable and realistic- he aces it. Sharib Hashmi as his lackey Chandan is another standout performer. As the man who does what his master bids him to, he is evil incarnate without overtly showing it.
Even the other side characters, like the unscrupulous cop Tomar (Summet Kaul) and the vulnerable lady police Riya Rathod (T J Bhanu), are remarkable, especially the latter in the way she adroitly manipulates those trying to manipulate her.
The writers — Mishra, Nisarg Mehta and Shiva Bajpai — exhibit a clear and lucid understanding of social media and how politicians fish in its eternally muddied waters. The camera by Colombian cinematographer Mauricio Vidal brings in the visual energy, and the background score by Czech composer Karel Antonin adds the right aural texture.
Sudhir Mishra is no stranger to political polemics. He brings that understanding to contemporary events, and the result is a powerful indictment of a system in which politics and media are in the same bed.
Towards the end, the film becomes a bit convoluted as the director shifts his focus to multiple issues. The preachiness, even if well-intentioned, is inescapable. But these can be minor quibbles in an otherwise solid and sobering take on today’s media-driven politics.