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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Mulk, Review: Half-baked attempt at addressing a burning national issue

Mulk, Review: Half-baked attempt at addressing a burning national issue

Right in the beginning, the makers tell you that the film is inspired by real-life incidents, as reported in Indian media, and that they have no intention of suggesting that some acts of some persons are representative of the entire community.

Mulk addresses the burning issue of terrorism and tries to convey the triple messages that perpetrators of terror should not be identified on the basis of their religion, that terrorism is not confined to violence, and that love for the country cannot be really demonstrated or defined—intimidation, creating a fear psychosis and religious profiling are also acts of terror, since they serve political aims, especially at election time.

There is absolutely nothing new in this well-intentioned film. Politicians are busy doing their things that they have been doing for decades on end, the only change being that now there is much more coverage on TV and that social media add to the complexity of the issue. Religion is a very touchy subject, and one way of garnering votes is to pitch the majority against the minorities, by spewing venom against them and generalising them as anti-social elements. This way, any party that sympathises with the accused few becomes a pariah party and could lose badly in elections.

Mulk (an Urdu word, meaning country) was shot in Banaras/Varanasi and Lucknow. A retired advocate, Murad (meaning major desire) Ali Mohammed, lives with his wife Tabassum (means smile), his brother Bilaal (the freed black slave who gave first Islamic call for prayer from atop a mosque), brother’s wife, also named Tabassum, his brother’s two children, a son named Shahid (witness) and a daughter called Aayat (text from the Quran). His own son, Rashid, is in America, doing business. Murad’s daughter-in-law is Aarti, a lawyer, and though she is from the Hindu faith, she has become part of the Muslim family without much ado.

Shahid drifts into the influence of a mastermind who wants to wreak havoc in the country. He joins two others in planting a bomb on a bus that kills 16 persons. Two of the terrorists are shot dead by the police soon afterwards, and Shahid has four bullets pumped into him by police encounter specialist Danish Javed. Javed revels in killing Muslim terrorists, though he is a Muslim himself. Moreover, besides the deceased, he implicates both Bilal and Murad as members of a family that breeds and nurtures terrorists.

Brought to court as accused, both deny any knowledge of Shahid’s intentions or of his bad company—they even refuse to accept his dead body, outraged at the act he committed—but agree that they were guilty of negligence as far as their duty of monitoring their family member was concerned. A series of events then leads to a courtroom drama, wherein Aarti becomes Bilaal’s defence lawyer. Having seen Bilaal’s trial through, till his death, due to a heart attack, she now has to defend Murad.

Dus, Tum Bin, Tum Bin 2 and Ra.One are the credentials of director Anubhav Sinha. He has written the film too. It has been reported that painstaking efforts, research, coaching and preparation went into making the film as close to reality as possible. That may be the case, but these facts are not enough to make a film interesting. Thousands of concerned politicians and officials, some of them apparently well-intentioned, are grappling with the issue that has spawned a slew of films, which have had varied impact. This one turns to into a court-room drama in the second half, which proceeds monotonously, with jargon and accusations flying.

The prosecutor, Santosh Anand, plumbs evil depths in showering accusations on the Mohammed family and going deep into religious profiling. Though shocking, none of the touted ‘facts’ or arguments are new, or argued in any novel way. Muslims have been accused of generally marrying four times, producing many children, not getting educated and sending some members of each family to become terrorists. Though we know who will win the battle in court, the contest between him and the defence counsel lack fire. A few clap-trap lines had our auditorium applauding, not enough to carry the film through.

For example, the prosecutor insists that Muslims like A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, Abdul Hameed, army-man who won the highest bravery honour, Paramveer Chakra and Bismillah Khan, the best shehnai (a wind-based, blowing music instrument) player were exceptions. The judge berates him for this statement. It is strange that while arguing for the conviction of the Mohammed family, the prosecutor raises the issues of lack of education among Muslims as well as their propensity to produce many children. The Mohammed family does not conform to this pattern.

Rishi Kapoor is a convincing Murad, with controlled anger and subdued romantic feelings. Taapsee Pannu as Aarti struggles in the court-room scenes, but with the script tilted in her favour, she manages to hold her own. Prateik Smit Babbar as Shahid is convincing, though the role is ill-defined. Rajat Kapoor plays Danish Javed as he always does—clipped accent and a mumble that makes it difficult to follow his dialogue. Otherwise, his casting is well-chosen. Neena Gupta, cast as Kapoor’s wife, is a delight to watch. Manoj Pahwa as Bilaal acts well but mispronounces certain Urdu words, as does Ashutosh Rana, who is type-cast once again as the prosecutor. Rana even calls Shahid “Shaheed”, which means martyr! Was nobody listening while the scene was being shot or dubbed?

Ashrut Jain does a commendable job in a small role, as Rashid, as does Prachi Shah Pandya, the younger Tabassum. Vartika Singh has a small role as Aayat. Writer Atul Tiwari has a not so small role, and fits in well as a paan (betel leaf) shop-owner, whose son identifies with fundamentalist Hindus, and even he tilts that way when his neighbour Murad Ali’s family is painted as a bunch of terrorists. Anil K. Rastogi as a neighbour, and the voice of temperance, makes another powerful impact, after Mukti Bhawan. Indraneil Sengupta appears in a handful of scenes as the terrorist mastermind. Kumud Mishra, cast as the judge, is a real-scene stealer. This is the best I have seen him perform. Music is tuneful, with some naughty lyrics on 'Maen bolee thaengey sey'.

Considering the gravity of the burning issues addressed, one would have expected a hard-hitting film version. Such a picture would have most likely attracted the wrath of the Central Board of Film Certification, which would have found it highly provocative. Maybe Sinha did make such a film, and we are seeing a sanitised, excised, toned down, half-baked version. But then, what’s the point of choosing such a story to film?

Rating: ** 1/2 


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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