Mulk Movie Review - Year's most important conversation

By Mayank Shekhar

Mulk Movie Review: For a second if you don't imagine this to be a film at all, but a compelling conversation; its motive, and indeed its structure, will begin to make more sense to you

A still from Mulk

Mulk
U/A: Drama
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Tapsee Pannu
Rating: 

For a second if you don't imagine this to be a film at all, but a compelling conversation; its motive, and indeed its structure, will begin to make more sense to you. I suspect that's really how the director, Anubhav Sinha, who's also the credited writer-producer sees this—a significant polemic first, and a thoroughly engaging picture, only thereafter.

What's being discussed? Well, exactly the same stuff, in perhaps as many words, as the discourse that's often dominated drawing rooms, but mostly mainstream chatter-box news, and social media (Twitter, Whatsapp groups in particular), over the last few years: Hindu-Muslim, national/anti-national kinda binaries, designed to divide the populace, then distract it from issues that really matter (better livelihood, for instance).

Under spotlight in this film is a Muslim family, one of whose sons has been implicated in a bomb blast. The fact that an entire community's intentions are being questioned thereof, leave aside the family's, ironically, makes it clear that the 'otherisation'/demonisation that this 140-minute film singularly speaks of is probably complete. Whether it's reversible or not is the key question.

Sinha weighs in on the issue, like most sane people have, online, and otherwise, arguing, for instance, that the world would've been instantly annihilated anyway, if one-fourth of its population (that's the number of Muslims) were all driven by a murderous rage, to begin with.

There's also the point about the dictionary definition of terrorism ('aantankwad' in Hindi, 'dehshat gardi' in Urdu), which is essentially the unlawful use of violence, intimidation, especially against civilians, in pursuit of political aims—religion (and not Islam alone), being one of the many tools (like caste, class, gender, etc), employed to achieve that goal.

Watch the trailer here:

Sinha's verbose editorial, however, takes away very little from the filmic craft he sharply applies to drive home his point. The film is rightly set in Uttar Pradesh, specifically in Varanasi, even more specifically in a khush-haal, khandani haveli, that reminds you somewhat of that Agra home that got torn apart during 1947-48, in MS Sathyu's Garam Hawa (1973)—perhaps the first major movie to response to Partition, although only 26 years after.

One looks at what a man like Garam Hawa's Salim Mirza (Balraj Sahni), who had to choose between 'mulk' (nation) and 'mazhab' (religion), could still go through, several decades later, when that supposed predicament is totally irrelevant. Rishi Kapoor—undoubtedly in the finest phase of his career—plays the Muslim patriarch, a bearded believer, who obviously (and rightly) can't sense a conflict between personal faith and patriotism, or national pride. And there is no way to prove such things, even if you were in a court of law, which is where the movie is chiefly set.

Mulk is, foremost, a 'court-room' drama. As per popular Bollywood convention, this means the second half of the movie is entirely placed in a massive, fancy adalat, with two feisty, cheeky lawyers (Ashutosh Rana, Tapsee Pannu; both expectedly crackling), going at each other, unmindful of standard legalese, let alone subtleties of any sort.

But then, again, times (xenophobic as they are, and not just in India), perhaps, leave very little room for subtleties to steer/contain the tide. I'm with the film on this mainstream choice. Every point is solidly, thunderously underlined, much like the Naseeruddin Shah's—"Deen mein dhadi hai, dhadi mein deen nahin"— concluding argument, in an equally essential Pakistani film, Khuda Kay Liye (2007).

Where I do have an issue with Mulk is how nation/religion remains still the boundary within which the debate is framed. As if, before India/Indians second/first, likewise Hindus/Muslims (and other political obfuscations), it's not important enough to ask, if we can simply be humans, before anything else.

But that's a quibble for later. Only glad (or at least hope), the conversation taking place here—with its tenets rather loud, and clear—will reach the largest numbers possible, even penetrate Twitter/Whatsapp groups, if you may. Books/columns, even reviews of this nature, articulating the same sentiment, clearly can't, in the same way a popular film can. And must.

Also Read: Rishi Kapoor: Need to bust myth that all Muslims are terrorists

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