'Afwaah' Review: Sudhir Mishra’s Take On The Weaponisation Of Social Media Raises Pertinent Questions
‘Afwaah’ Review: Sudhir Mishra’s Take On The Weaponisation Of Social Media Raises Pertinent Questions

Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Bhumi Pednekar’ effortless brilliance ensures that there is not a single misstep along the way.

Director: Sudhir Mishra
Writer: Sudhir Mishra, Nisarg Mehta, Shiva Bajpai
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bhumi Pednekar, Sharib Hashmi, Sumeet Vyas, and others
Rating: 4.5/5



Rahab Ahmed (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is an advertising professional who has left his cushy job and life as an NRI in the US and has come back to serve his motherland. Although this altruistic character seems somewhat inspired by Swades’s Mohan Bhargava, we eventually learn his true motivation. He is making a quick detour to his ancestral village while on his way to join his author wife at a prestigious literature festival. But instead, we reach Sawalpur, a small town in Rajasthan, which literally translates to ‘the land of questions’. Here the political leaders who are upper-caste, rich Hindus with questionable moralities and loyalties rule over the poor populace who never questions anything these politicians spin on them. It is the goings on in Sawalpur that prompts the audience to question the world of WhatsApp forwards and fake news…or that’s what Mishra hopes—that the going-on at Sawalpur will make the audience ask the right questions.


In Sawalpur, we meet an entitled and bigoted gen-next politician, Vicky Singh Bana(Sumeet Vyas), and his cavalcade making its way through a Muslim-majority neighbourhood, Kasai mohalla, where he intermittently stops to address the people. Politics is his family business and he is an upper caste Hindu whose ancestors have ruled the land for generations. While giving a speech, he is hit by a few stones. He promptly leaves the locality but not before unleashing his ‘Bana sena’ on the hapless members of the minority community and ensuring a full-blown communal violence that spread in the entire town. The implied killing of a beef seller inside his shop by one of Bana’s trusted cadre, Chandan (Sharib Hashmi), is bound to remind one of the 2015 brutal slaughtering of 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq by a mob in Bisahda village, near Dadri in Uttar Pradesh. However, Chandan entering the butcher’s shop is captured in videos and those go viral, he becomes the target, and Vicky Bana has no qualms about sacrificing his loyal henchman to save his own image. As the videos of the goings on at the kasai mohalla and Vicky Bana (which implies he might have given the orders to Chandan to carry out the killing of the Muslim butcher) become viral, it is his fiancé Nivi (Bhumi Pednekar) who is livid. Daughter of a senior political leader who is also Vicky’s mentor, the political heiress knows the politics of the party and it doesn’t take her much to figure out that Vicky Bana is playing the communal card. When she fails to dissuade him from his path, not willing to be a part of such atrocities, she decides to leave him and chooses her own path. It is when her path crosses with that of Rahab that all hell breaks loose. Rahab simply helps a lady (Nivi) he sees on the streets being chased and attacked by hooligans (Vicky’s party workers) and offers her a lift in his car. When his car number plate reveals his identity to Vicky, he and his political machinery work overtime to create a rumour around this. In their version, a Muslim man had eloped with an upper-caste Hindu woman, who happens to be the daughter of a top political leader and the fiancé of another. It is, of course, love jihad and WhatsApp forwards, viral videos, and social media posts soon ensure that the entire town is baying for their blood. As both the Vicky Bana-created rumour and communal violence spread like wildfire, the first becomes extra fuel for the second, and it becomes the focal point of Sawalpur politics. As the two strangers try to escape the wrath of the love jihad brigade, the story incorporates cow vigilante groups who are after a truck full of what they are made to believe as cows taken for slaughtering, there is also a poignant side story of an upper caste corrupt cop, Tomar’s (Sumeet Kaul), manipulation of a lady constable (TJ Bhanu)) hailing from a lower caste and how it gets normalised in her family reflecting the generational trauma. Right at the start of the movie Rahab, at a business conference, says: ‘Achhi kahaniyaan woh hain jisme tark ho, jo aapko provoke karein to ask why’. That is exactly what Sudhir Mishra, along with his writers, Nisarg Mehta and Shiva Bajpai, attempts and achieves with Afwaah.


What is refreshing about this thought-provoking and gripping socio-political drama is that the writing is seamless and keeps the focus on the actual story it wants to tell instead of digressing into the personal politics of the filmmaker and indulging in preachy and heavy dialogues (however, the melodrama of the re-imagination of the iconic Dilip Kumar’s gari roko scene from Mashaal could have been avoided). It simply puts a clear mirror and lets the honest, unadulterated reflection do the talking. Unlike his producer, Anubhav Sinha’s, last outing as a director, Bheed, Afwaah is a more layered, mature, and complex film where the filmmaker is not seething with anger but you can feel his anguish and even bewilderment at a society almost run by fear and fake news doled out on social media often by the IT cells of political parties. It points out how a simple rumour can mobilize a lynch-mob and take lives. Bhumi Pednekar is brilliant as Nivi, so much so that you almost manage to ignore her lip filler and focus on what she achieves on screen as an actor. She becomes Nivi with the same casual ease as her last outing as Renu Sharma. It is rare to see Pednekar not become the character but here she gets an equally brilliant co-actor in Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays Rahab with an understated brilliance. Her fiery is complemented by his calm. It is like watching Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly partnering for a knockout innings with one bringing out the best in the other apart from bringing in their own A-game. Sumeet Vyas unleashes a different side of himself as an actor in Vicky Bana. He is perfect as the entitled bigot who can casually go for a polo match after giving orders for a bloodbath. He plays the youth leader who is a mix of acquired power and inherent cowardice to perfection. Sharib Hashmi as Chandan is impactful and Sumeet Kaul as Tomargives a memorable performance.


While cinematographer Mauricio Vidal’s gritty and unwavering lens captures the chaos and gore on the ground, it does an equally good job of capturing the beauty of the sprawling land with his aerial shots, putting into perspective that things that often seem gorgeous from a distance often hide some ugly truths deep inside that only a closer look can reveal. While most are night scenes and shot with artificial lights, he manages to create the right mood and tone. Atanu Mukherjee’s editing is crisp and ensures the socio-political drama has an edge-of-the-seat thriller vibe with its pace.





Two strangers accidentally cross paths one night and their lives are turned upside down. Carefully brewed rumours are turned into fake news instigating mob violence for political gains. The movie is a brutal and poignant no-holds-barred take on the socio-political realities of the times we are living in where a simple rumour can unleash a lynch mob, where politicians casually go to a polo match after ordering his party cadets to go on a killing spree, where loyalty is easily traded for political gains, where marriage is used strengthen political alliance, where the upper caste still rule over the lower caste even in professional setups, where the high society people are blissfully oblivious of the ground realities and human suffering is part of some great entertainment show. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Bhumi Pednekar’ effortless brilliance ensures that there is not a single misstep along the way.


The gritty socio-political thriller might seem like a spiritual sequel to his 2019 cult classic Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin, but Afwaah, in its climactic scene also reminds one of Ruben Östlund’s 2017 Palme d’Or winning film, The Square.



Sudhir Mishra is back in his element with this acerbic criticism of the social-media-driven society we are living in. Although he picks up on the 2015 Dadri lynching, Love jihad, and recent headlines, he carefully avoids the trappings of a propaganda film. His politics never become stilted or overpower his cinematic vision. This spares the movie from becoming a Twitter rant. Instead, Afwaah is an honest mirror of the easily brainwashed society and its herd mentality. And this is no Afwaah. Watch it at a theatre near you.

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