If Is Raat Ki Subeh Nahi was a movie franchise. Afwaah could have very well been part of it. It is a story of one day in a poll-bound western state, where a common man gets entangled in a situation that is not so common – or so we would like to hope. Also, just like in Is Raat Ki, the common man also seems to be from the world of advertising. Of course, Mishra chooses the industry carefully, as we find as the story progresses.
Rahab Ahmed (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) gets entangled in a situation when he tries helping a woman (Bhumi Pednekar) who is seemingly getting harassed by goons on the road even as bystanders around prefer not to help. He realises that the woman he ‘rescued’, is actually the daughter of a powerful politician and fiancée of another rising leader, who is in the middle of a communal flare-up in the constituency. Soon, politics finds a way to brand Rahab as a “love jihadi”, who has eloped with a ‘gullible Hindu woman’ while already married to another.
As the story progresses, Mishra unleashes everything that makes to 9 pm news debates these days – communal tensions for political gains, anti-beef activism, social media trends, and how all of it misleads the largely innocent citizens, leaving many desolate and even homeless. Sudhir does not shy away from taking a clear stand and expressing his politics. Which is more uncommon than we would like to believe. He does not stop there. Mishra also makes an unsparring statement on the cowardice of armchair critics, who are happy locking themselves away while enjoying their white wine and cultural evenings.
Afwaah is not without its flaws. The screenplay wavers after the initial 45 minutes and turns incredibly convenient at times. Like how easy things turn out towards the end. Also, one of the biggest flaws is casting Nawazuddin Siddiqi as a US-returned advertising professional who needs to mouth English dialogues, as any similar real-life character would. Except Nawaz, while on point otherwise, is completely off when trying to pass off as the guy who uses English expletives as a second nature. The fit isn’t seamless.
Where Afwaah shines is in Mishra’s ability to create memorable characters and also add humour to otherwise grim situations. Humour derived from characters so true to life that it would make you chuckle. The best character in this tale clearly is Chandan Singh, played by a very dependable Sharib Hashmi. A character who is as smart as he is dumb, someone who is so engrossed in servitude he can’t see beyond.
The performances of Bhumi Pednekar and Sumeet Vyaas fit right into the world Mishra creates.
Sudhir Mishra’s ability to tell a tight-paced story really not be questionable. He proved it with Is Raat Ki Subeh Nahi. Afwaah is his attempt at a commentary on how he sees the changing world – the factors changing it, as well as people who are using change for their own gains. He also deals with lies that we are subjected to. Afwaah. And more often than not the larger section of the young nation seems to be falling for it, rather than questioning what they see. In one of the last sequences of the film, Mishra’s camera focuses on a donkey as it gets off a truck and escapes, symbolising the gullible citizens… satire at its best. Afwaah is worth watching just for the opening credits and that one donkey scene if not for everything in between.
Afwaah is now available on Netflix.