Plunging the audience into the horror of ‘terrorism’ and the devastating truth of being a minority, writer director Anubhav Sinha delivers his best in his eventful career spanning 25 years. MULK’s biggest strength is its subject material that is bitterly honest, deeply disturbing, and utterly essential piece of cinema that offers a striking mirror - an incisive portrait of the society that functions on prejudice, it can be a particular society but the resonance of such prejudice is observed everywhere round the globe.
Coming at times when nationality is decided not by the individual but a group, MULK does ask the same pertinent questions about terrorisms, the price a Muslim may have to pay to prove his loyalty, but it’s not the run-of-the-mill stuff, it takes its stand, raises its voice and ensures that it gets heard.
Murad Ali Mohammed (Rishi Kapoor) is a well-respected lawyer, Murad Ali is on the verge of turning 65, the patriarch of his family stays in-house in a mohalla in Benaras (Varanasi) amidst his Hindu neighbors since 1927. Murad Ali is the kindhearted soul, who stays with his cheerful wife Tabassum (Neena Gupta), his younger brother Bilaal Mohammed (Manoj Pahwa), Bilaal’s wife Chhoti Tabassum (Prachi Shah), their son Shahid Mohammed (Prateik Babbar) and daughter Aayat. Murad Ali’s household gets the ideal status of togetherness with daughter-in-law Aarti Mohammed, (Taapsee Pannu), a Hindu married to Murad’s son played by Indraneil Sengupta. Aarti has returned from Germany due to some argument over her husband and the whole family is geared up for Murad’s 65th birthday. Murad who says, ‘Ram Ram’ to his Hindu neighbour Sonkar and prepares delicious korma on his 65th birthday and teases his Hindu friend who relishes kababs secretly, to have a bite in public paints a perfect picture of a region in harmony.
Suddenly the world of Murad, the beliefs of his friends/neighbours and the locality and the nation changes drastically when Murad Ali’s younger brother’s son, Shahid Mohammed (Prateik Babbar) gets identified as a suspected terrorist who is involved in a bomb blast that has killed innocent people. Shahid is nabbed by the police lead by senior police officer Danish Javed (Rajat Kapoor). Refusing to surrender, the police force eliminates Shahid and the horror for Murad and his family begins. Shahid’s father, Bilaal Mohammed (Manoj Pahwa) is taken into police custody under suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities. The whole scenario changes, Murad and his family are looked with an eye of suspicion, worst; Murad’s religion gets targeted and becomes the basis of the case. How Murad a respected lawyer along with his daughter-in-law Aarti Mohammed an advocate join forces to fight for the dignity of their family, the prejudice of terrorism being related to a certain religion, the idea of nationality, the identity crises of minority and last but not the least the debate on humanity.
Writer director Anubhav Sinha takes risks and clutches us tight with some insightful secrets in scenes when Murad defines 'jihaad’ (commonly known as holy war) as a struggle against sins, not against communities and when the writer director spins the lies (prejudice) on ‘terrorism’ in a powerful courtroom scene that involves Tapsee and Rajat. The dialogues are movie’s assets and it’s a movie where almost every character has played his part extremely well.
Rishi Kapoor as Murad Ali is nothing but another master class by the incredibly talented actor. His body language, his diction, the aghast, the remorse of a person who is unfortunately taken as a Muslim first rather than human, a senior Indian citizen who has to prove his loyalty to his nation, is a class apart.
Taapsee is first rate as the ‘bahu’ and the advocate. A pillar of hope and strength for Murad and a befitting counter to her rival advocate Santosh Anand (Ashutosh Rana) a picture/simile of prejudice.
Ashutosh Rana as advocate Santosh Anand is brilliant; his command over Hindi, his vocabulary and the way he pushes his point forward with a touch of sly humour is a treat.
Prateik gets less scope but he delivers. Neena Gupta is a joy to watch on screen, she is so natural. Prachi, as Choti Tabassum has her moments of agony, aghast and remorse as the mother of a terrorist.
Manoj Pahwa as Bilaal Mohammed is top notch. A man who is not presently in good terms with his elder brother though the emotions are intact, a father who has failed to identify his son, a ‘victim’ of circumstances and wrong judgment, Manoj Pawa is sheer class.
Rajat Kapoor is powerful as the senior cop Danish Javed who is fighting his inner demons created by the prejudice.
And last but not the least, Kumud Mishra as the judge is outstanding, it seems the writer has reserved some best lines for Kumud for the climax and its spot on driving on popular sentiments.
Like every human and nation, Writer director Anubhav Sinha’s MULK also comes with some flaws, which cannot be ignored. No doubt writer director Anubhav Sinha has taken risks but somewhere in his argument over humanity and religion, there are certain important questions, which remain unanswered. For example the mystery behind the 14 sim card remains a mystery; the transformation of Shahid into a terrorist is not explained properly and other things. Further some more digging on the issue and not just a courtroom monologue could have created wonders. MULK has layers, but given the tone, structure, the presence of such a talented star cast extra layers could be easily added and made it eternal.
Technically polished with good production values, the camera of Ewan Mulligan captures the irony of Murad’s family in the required tones; Editing by Ballu Saluja is fine. Background score by Mangesh Dhakde is apt, songs composed by Prasad Sashte and Anurag Saikia go with the flow, ‘Thenge Se’ is the best.
Finally, with all its pros and cons, it cannot be denied that MULK is Anubhav Sinha’s best work till date, the cry for humanity, equality, the debate on prejudice, terrorism is bitterly honest, disturbingly hard hitting and undoubtedly an essential piece of cinema which needs to be watched by all to echo the fact terrorism is a criminal act and not a communal one.