‘Mulk’ review: Anguish of the patriarch

A still from the movie ‘Mulk’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk is a welcome addition to a triptych of films, all with Muslim patriarchs at the centre, bringing to light the community’s anguish and dilemmas in the face of divisive politics. After Balraj Sahni in Garm Hava (1973), set during the Partition, and Kaifi Azmi in Naseem (1995), about the days leading up to the Babri Masjid demolition of December 6, 1992, it’s the turn of Rishi Kapoor in Mulk to articulate Muslim anxieties in the contemporary communal times. He plays lawyer Ali Mohammed who has to go about reclaiming his family’s honour, lost at the hands of a wayward son. Needless to say it’s an uphill task in the face of the increasing hatred and bigotry around. The family gets humiliated and torn apart, their loyalty gets questioned, relationships collapse and friendships crumble.

The set of three films bears witness to the fact that the more things change the more they remain the same. That even 71 years after Independence the communal tensions and prejudices haven’t quite left India; they have reared their heads in more ominous ways.

However, at an aesthetic level Mulk may feels like a Garm Hava or a Naseem played to the gallery. The essential gravitas of its predecessors gets a solid dose of drama and old world dialoguebaazi in Mulk, which may seem simplistic, clichéd and broad but is fiery and rousing. Instead of talking to the converted, director Anubhav Sinha manages to use the conventions and tools of mainstream cinema to go beyond the liberal echo chambers and try and reach out to the masses. That, in fact, could well prove to be Mulk’s biggest strength.

  • Director: Anubhav Sinha
  • Starring: Rishi Kapoor, Taapsee Pannu, Manoj Pahwa, Neena Gupta, Prachi Shah, Rajat Kapoor, Ashutosh Rana, Prateik Babbar, Kumud Mishra, Atul Tiwari, Anil Rastogi
  • Run time: 140.18 minutes
  • Storyline: Mohammed family of Varanasi goes about reclaiming its rightful honour, lost at the hands of a wayward son

Mulk holds immense promise right at the start as Sinha goes about capturing the culturally and communally concordant Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb of Varanasi, where Hindus may begin their mornings to the sound of aazaan, where a vegetarian Chaubey can eat kebabs on the sly at his Muslim neighbour’s home. Cinematographer Ewan Mulligan’s constantly moving camera shows the chaos of everyday life as well as the underlying sense of harmony. At the same time there are the hidden flashpoints, the discords and fissures. A Hindu neighbour is willing to share in the happiness and festivities of the Mohammed family but won’t eat their food, even if its pure vegetarian. There are jibes about lack of education and jihad in the community. No wonder a tiny spark of jingoistic nationalism is enough to bring the neighbourhood camaraderie and amity down.

Dealing with communal issues can be a minefield. At times you wonder if Sinha is making the Muslims go on the backfoot what with the talk of “Pakistani patakhe”, a family refusing to acknowledge its own child, a Muslim SSP going about teaching extreme lessons to his own people, the talk of achcha (good) as against bura (bad) musalmaan. But Sinha eventually takes a sensible, well meaning stand on the “us” vs “them” divide, on the mulk (country) vs mazhab (religion) debate, on what defines terrorism and on whose home is India anyway. He also manages to take potshots at quite a few holy cows — demonetisation, Swachh Bharat and the increasing tendency of taking recourse to fake Whatsapp forwards than diving deep into history.

He has a stellar cast to weave a compelling social fabric from. Rishi Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu walk away with the most dramatic moments but Manoj Pahwa as Ali Mohammed’s wronged brother Bilal is heartbreaking and Kumud Mishra as the judge gets to speak some compelling common sense about the Constitution and elections that we could well pay heed to.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 8:05:38 AM |

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