The history of Religion is fraught with violence. A definitive set of tenets can only work when you can boast of a massive population that follows them. However, not everyone would be sympathetic to your beliefs so war became a method for powerful regimes to impose their religious doctrines on relatively secular states which held an individual above any theocracy. One could even say that Religion was founded on Terrorism, and not the other way around. The only difference is that in some unfortunate social constructs that violence has persisted while others have found a more stable footing. The fact that Islam comes to your mind while reading the previous sentence points to the tumultuous trajectory it has suffered through. As of 2010, there were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world which accounts for about 23% of the World population. Based on various sources, about 15 to 20% of this population comprises of Islamic extremists and radicals. This means that more than 80% of the Muslim population in the world are peace-loving people. However, this also means that there are about 250 million people who are highly-motivated individuals that are willing to do whatever it takes to win their ‘jihad’.
One could even say that Religion was founded on Terrorism, and not the other way around.
Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk revolves around the harrowing story of a Muslim family which is inadvertently dragged into a terror investigation. Murad Ali Mohammad is a highly respected advocate within his community in Banaras. Despite being a predominantly Hindu society, Banaras boasts of unprecedented communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims. Murad and his younger brother Bilal live with their families in a happy, boisterous household. Bilal is a simpleton who doesn’t realize his familial responsibilities and instead trusts his elder brother to show him the way like a father would. In what seems like an isolated incident, one of the buses plying from Banaras to Allahabad suffers a bomb-blast. With the gruesome pictures that start to emerge on the television, police release pictures of the perpetrators and one of them is Bilal’s son Shahid. As the police track him down, Shahid is given a chance to surrender but he fights back and dies in the crossfire. The whole incident suddenly brings a peaceful community into the limelight. People who had known Murad’s family for decades looked on them with derision and anger, marking them as a terrorist household.
Mulk’s subject is not new in Bollywood. In films like New York and My Name is Khan we have seen good people fall victim to communal hatred instigated by a terrorist incident. Interestingly, both films, in this case, tell a story in the aftermath of 9/11. Mulk, however, focuses on the ground realities of what it means to be a Muslim family in India. Thanks to the decades of political tactics and electioneering, the differences between a Hindu and a Muslim have been thrown into stark contrast. In one of the court scenes in the film, Murad Ali talks about how his very appearance makes him a more likely target in a terrorist investigation than anyone without a beard. Mulk also raises an interesting point that even Muslims, who aren’t as devout, tend to treat other Muslims with a similar religious intolerance as others. However, the film also oversimplifies a few aspects. During the court proceedings, the final verdict is pointed towards all Muslims asking them to look after their kids, know what they are up to, essentially chalking terrorism to bad parenting. Such scenarios are few and far between. Terrorist organizations target vulnerable families who are socio-economically struggling. Kids are largely taken away on the pretext of “paid work” and systematically brainwashed into extremism. Other times they are inducted at gunpoint and they have to agree in order to make sure that their families live.
However, the film also oversimplifies a few aspects. During the court proceedings, the final verdict is pointed towards all Muslims asking them to look after their kids, know what they are up to, essentially chalking terrorism to bad parenting.
Despite the apparent flaws in the storyline, the film is elevated by its performances. Rishi Kapoor, who plays Murad Ali, is a venerable man whose strength of character is the only thing that keeps him going through the difficult times. A boisterous character in the first act, Kapoor effortlessly switches to a darker visage in the second act. Tapsee Pannu, who plays his Hindu daughter-in-law Aarti, is a strong-headed, independent woman who stands by her family in their time of need and also acts as a medium of conveying the message that humanity will forever stand above religion. Ashutosh Rana, who plays devil’s advocate during the courtroom drama, retains his sly twinkle that characterizes his persona. Although the debate is itself run-of-the-mill, the fervor of the two characters grips you to the sequence until the very end. Not to digress here but in a particular scene Murad Ali delivers an emotional monologue while standing in the witness box which is completely inaccurate as per court guidelines. A lawyer usually asks yes or no questions and the witness is never allowed to speak out of turn. That was hard to digest but drama you want, drama you get.
Mulk has its heart in the right place while it tries to address several pertinent questions. However, the story leaves you wanting as it gets more and more predictable as it progresses. Having said that, Sinha’s attempt at a different genre has potential and I expect some good stories coming out of his mind.