Mulk review: A serious film for serious times
Prejudice plays the role of a main character in this film that makes a strong case for breaking down the barriers of bigotry
One good thing about mainstream Hindi cinema over the last few years is that it is open to new and more realistic material. Subjects that were once taboo or controversial or thought of as commercially unviable are now seeing the light of day. Mulk is a perfect example of such cinema. Not just is it relevant to the times, it makes a strong case for breaking down the barriers of bigotry and prejudice that are sweeping the country. The film narrates the tale of a respectable Muslim family living in Varanasi. They are deemed ‘respectable’ because the patriarch, Murad Ali Mohammed, is a successful lawyer (and is often fondly called Vakeel Sahib by his peers). The Mohammed family is often seen fraternising with its predominantly Hindu neighbours, inviting them to functions at the house and such. Other members of the joint family include Ali’s wife, Tabassum, his brother Bilaal, and Bilaal’s family (his wife and two children – Aayat and Shahid). Ali’s son, Javed, is in London, and lives with his wife, Aarti. Aarti returns home unexpectedly, and unbeknownst to anyone but Bilaal’s wife, is dealing with marital problems. Ali is on good terms with all the Hindu members of his neighbourhood, having shared a special long-standing bond with three people in particular.
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Taapsee Pannu, Manoj Pahwa, Rajat Kapoor, Ashutosh Rana
When Shahid is indicted in a terrorist attack in Allahabad, the family is in shock. His gradual radicalisation at the hands of terror mastermind, Mehfooz Aalam, is shown to the audience in snippets, but the family is unable to see the fire being stoked. Investigating Officer Danish Javed, sends a team to the Mohammed household in the hope that they can somehow talk Shahid into surrendering. Holed up in a structure surrounded by security personnel, he refuses to give up despite pleas from his stricken family. With Aalam constantly egging him on, Shahid is killed trying to escape. His father, Bilaal, is immediately taken in for questioning. Being a lawyer, Aarti accompanies him to the police station. Bilaal is interrogated about his connection to the terror plot. An unfair court case ensues.
Mulk does a fine job with the treatment of its subject. Subtle hints are thrown at the audience long before the case begins. The first scene showcases Shahid speaking to Mehfooz Aalam. The latter tells an eager Shahid, “Just because you wear a ten-rupee topi, cover your legs below your knees, and say namaaz every day, you don’t become a Muslim.” This radicalisation of youth plays a subtle part in the narrative; the indoctrination is never really seen beyond a smattering of stray dialogue. The aforementioned religious fundamentalism is witnessed across the board. When Chaubey (Ali’s dear friend) chastises his son to pay more attention to the business instead of politics, his son tells him in no uncertain terms: “These people (meaning Muslims) are destroying our country, and you’re still socialising with them.”
Prejudice plays the role of a main character in Mulk. This shift in attitude among the Hindus is witnessed as soon as the news of Shahid breaks. Old friends and acquaintances begin viewing the Mohammed family with a jaundiced eye; ‘Go Back to Pakistan’ gets painted on the wall, stones get pelted into their compound, Ali’s garage is no longer his. The public prosecutor attempts to paint all Muslims with one brush, making arguments that aren’t based on fact. And even though the judge reprimands him for making the case communal, the former’s bias shows when he allows other baseless claims to stand. Ali, however, remains steadfast in the face of any fundamentalism, religious or otherwise; he treats his bigoted Hindu friends/neighbours in the same manner in which he treats his radicalised Muslim brethren.
While the acting is rather impressive, some of the court scenes are too dramatic to be taken at face value. Taapsee Pannu is the acting standout. The identity of her character is handled skilfully early on. It is clear she isn’t Muslim from the very beginning, but her name isn’t revealed until she is asked by the investigating officer. Mulk is the sort of film that sheds light on all that is wrong with India. It can only be hoped that a dramatisation of real events makes people sit up and think about altering attitudes and doing away with prejudices that are governed by fear and a lack of basic understanding.