Afwaah is a bold and significant effort towards countering 'rumours' and 'fake news' on social media that propagate ideological polarisation and hate crimes.
There are good films and there are important films. Sudhir Mishra's 'Afwaah' is both. Not long after the advent of social media, it has both exhausted as well as polarised us. Whether we like it or not, people also use media not to learn about contrasting political views but to reinforce their beliefs. Social media's notorious algorithms further polarise one's notions. More often than not, without any proof, one tweet leads to another, and people get cancelled, jailed or even murdered. Not only social media but Indian cinema is also currently witnessing the influx of politically polarising films, especially since the general elections are only a year away. In such a highly volatile environment, Afwaah is a bold and significant effort towards countering 'rumours' and 'fake news' that are propagating ideological factionalization and hate crimes today.
Disapproving her family's ideology, Nivi Singh (Bhumi Pednekar), daughter of political stalwart Gyan Singh and fiance of upcoming politician Vicky Bana (Sumit Vyas), elopes when the video of a murder during Vicky's political rally-turned-riot goes viral. She runs away, only to be hounded by Vicky's henchmen. Upon seeing Nivi being harassed, Rahab Ahmed (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), an 'ad-man', who has just returned from the USA, jumps in to save her. When Rahab and Nivi's video goes viral, as per his social media manager's advice, Vicky tweaks the video and falsely labels it 'Love Jihad'. What follows is frenzied rumour-mongering and hatred that lead to hate crimes similar to the ones making headlines in India currently. Right from the Pehlu Khan lynching to the Sakshi Mishra case, Afwaah mirrors all horrors that are lately being committed in the name of ideologies and religion.
In one of the initial scenes, in response to a provoking speech, one stone pelted by an anonymous person leads to a riot. Men murder each other and burn things to the ground while a journalist boasts of breaking news. A goon seizes the opportunity and kills a Muslim butcher. Terrified, all Muslims leave the locality. But when Vicky says, "Pehle paththar unhone phenka tha," Nivi replies, "Toh? Maar doge unhe tum?" The writers of Afwaah, Sudhir Mishra, Nisarg Mehta, and Shiva Bajpai understand India's current state very well which they have portrayed with a sensible and empathetic gaze.
Similarly, Afwaah delves deep into the behind-the-scenes of all the sensationalised issues that regularly seem to be dividing the country's people. Every now and then, we see videos of the loved ones of hate crime victims asking for help. This film shows what truly goes on in their lives. From broad concepts like dogmatism and religiocentrism to their horrifying consequences like Islamophobia, beef ban, honour killing, mob lynchings and more, Afwaah explores it all rationally and compassionately. Additionally, through Nivi's character, the film studies the price a woman has to pay if she wishes to run away from men who inherently believe that they own women.
It further helps that Afwaah is a gripping watch. While Siddiqui and Pednekar run the show, Vyas, and Sharib Hashmi (as Chandan Singh, the goon) give especially impressive performances. Sumit Kaul as Inspector Sandeep Tomar and TJ Bhanu as Constable Riya Rathod also leave a lasting impression. Afwaah derives a lot of strength from its dialogues and a thrilling script that constantly keeps you hooked. One cannot walk into a Sudhir Mishra film and not be intrigued anyway. Don't get me wrong, Afwaah will make you highly uncomfortable especially when you know that rumour-mongering has entered cinema halls too. But it makes you uncomfortable for the right reasons while engrossing you simultaneously.
At the heart of Afwaah is a desire to show how blind faith and hero-worshipping kill a society's integrity, how politicians and leaders use gaslighting to make the masses falsely insecure and how, ignorant of their unity, and blinded by hysteria, mobs often bay for each other's blood. How taunted by patriarchy and fuelled by insecurity, men turn violent and toxic to prove themselves and how a lack of rationality and empathy can turn people venomous. What can save us from this hatred is only humanity and the courage to ask questions, to debate.
Afwaah is currently running in theatres.