How does one prove that one loves one’s country? And should this love be questioned in the first place? Who are the actual citizens of this country, really? Given the fact that 40 lakh people in Assam find themselves out of the citizen list, these are relevant questions indeed. Such questions have never been pointedly asked in such a fearless manner in our films. In times where rapid radicalisation of the majority religion is taking place, these are unpopular questions which will surely make some people uncomfortable. For years, we have been divided into them and us and slowly, this divide has reached such a state that now the criteria is that if you hate them, only then you’re with us. The film makes you see these dark truths and you can’t help but nod. The solution it gives, that both communities need to closely watch it’s fringe elements and not turn everything a few radicals do into national news, is a sensible thing to say but you can’t alas, talk sense to a mob.
Shahid Mohammed (Prateik Babbar) is the wayward nephew of advocate Murad Ali Mohammed (Rishi Kapoor). His younger brother, Bilaal Mohammed (Manoj Pahwa), runs a small electronics shop. His elder son is settled in England, along with his Hindu wife, Aarti (Taapsee Pannu), who too is a lawyer. The film opens on the eve of his 65th birthday. There is a festive mood in the air and the women of the house, Murad’s wife (Neena Gupta) and Bilaal’s wife (Prachee Shah) are busy with their preparations. Aarti pays them a surprise visit at this point and the family is all set for a happy reunion. But the atmosphere changes overnight when Shahid is accused of being a terrorist. He’s killed in an encounter and his father is arrested for having connection with terrorists. Neighbours, with whom the family shares a friendly camaraderie, start viewing them with angry suspicion. Their house get stoned and their front door gets defiled by abusive graffiti. Worse, Murad himself, who is fighting his brother’s case, is slapped with a charge of collusion. Now it’s up to daughter-in-law Aarti to clear the family name by winning the case in the court.
The film is shot in Benaras and Lucknow, and cinematographer Ewan Mulligan has evocatively captured the spirit of both the places. There is a grittiness, a graniness, a grimness rather to the cinematography which goes with the bitter subject of the film. Ballu Saluja’s deft editing brings a fluidity to the proceedings. The writing, especially the idiomatic dialogue and the court scenes are the soul of the film. Kudos to director Sinha for that. And he should be lauded for his spot on casting as well. Every actor looks their part. They feel like a family when they are together, their uneven odds and ends fitting into each other to make a whole.
Taapsee is growing as an actor with each film and is a delight to watch as a bahu, who learns to keep emotions aside and goes for a clinical dissection of the prosecutor’s case, using cold logic to combat his bombastic arguments. Ashutosh Rana has a tendency to go over the top at times but here he doesn’t trip over the bounds of melodrama, clearly enjoying playing the counsel for the prosecution. Rajat Kapoor plays the complex character of a Muslim anti-terror specialist who is at the risk of becoming the monster he wants to kill but gets a chance at redemption. He gets the nuances right and turns it into a memorable performance. Prateik is achingly real in his too short a role. We seriously needed to see him more. Rishi Kapoor too is in his element as the lawyer who thinks the law is on his side and is bewildered and saddened by the changing attitudes and scenarios. He serves as the moral compass of the film, refusing to give in to voices who preach hate and division. His pain in real and so is the certitude that truth will triumph in the end. Mention must also be made of Manoj Pahwa, who is shown to have burrowed himself in a morass of grief after his son’s death but whose loyalty towards his elder brother remains intact.
At the start of the review, it is stated that the film asks some unpleasant questions. But the most important question it asks is — what’s the definition of terrorism? Well, you’ll be surprised at the answer…