If there is one thing Anubhav Sinha’s “Mulk” (Nation) gets right, it is the message. The manner of delivery might be deemed a tad simplistic, and the tone bombastic, but the film is clear about what it wants to say. And it today’s times, it is an important message to get across.
The film seems to start off on a familiar storyline of a young Muslim man who gets radicalised and carries out a bombing. He is killed in an encounter with the police shortly after, but that is hardly the story of the film. Instead, Sinha chooses to focus on what his ideology and actions do to his family and the seemingly cosmopolitan society they live in.
For family patriarch Murad Ali Mohammed (Rishi Kapoor), his nephew’s death is a double blow. One, for the personal loss, and two, because he sees how quickly relationships change. Neighbours and friends turn away, their house is attacked, and a hostile lawyer seems determined to prove that the entire family colluded with Shahid (Prateik Babbar).
As the case plays out in the courtroom, and the family crumbles outside it, Sinha uses the story to make some pertinent points about Islamophobia and fundamentalism on both sides of the divide. The family’s Hindu daughter-in-law, Aarti (Taapsee Pannu), who is also a lawyer, steps in to defend the family, arguing that prejudice against a religion cannot be the basis for a conspiracy case.
“Mulk” makes all the right noises – Murad chastises fellow Muslims who sympathise with his nephew and his cause, and emphasises again and again that he is a good Muslim who loves his country. What does ring false is the court case that Sinha chooses to center his film on. It seems Sinha could find no other way to talk about Islamophobia and prejudices other than getting his characters to deliver long sermons about it in court. The message might be noble, but if the director had found a way to be subtle about it, the effectiveness would have increased.
For what it’s worth, Sinha’s cast, especially Kapoor and Pannu, bring in the restraint that is missing in the script. The honesty in their performances manifest on screen. “Mulk” does have its flaws, but you cannot fault the intention.