May 21, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Sudhir Mishra
Hindi with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the action film “Afwaah” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: An advertising professional becomes unwittingly involved in deadly political corruption when he agrees to help a political socialite go into hiding.
Culture Audience: “Afwaah” will appeal primarily to people who like watching action-oriented movies about dangerous political feuds and how social media gossip can easily spread to mainstream media.
“Afwaah” is a flawed political thriller that has enough suspenseful and well-acted moments that outweigh the movie’s shortcomings. The movie has pointed observations about how social media can be used as a way to manipulate mainstream news media. “Afwaah” (which means “rumor” in Hindi) is less skilled at showing realism in this story about two people hiding out from kidnappers and assassins.
Directed by Sudhir Mishra (who co-wrote the “Afwaah” screenplay with Nisarg Mehta and Shiva Bajpai), “Afwaah” is also a story about how two people from different worlds can become unlikely allies under certain circumstances. The two people whose worlds collide in “Afwaah” (which takes place in India) are advertising professional Rahab Ahmed (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and political socialite Nivedita “Nivi” Singh (played by Bhumi Pednekar), who end up going into hiding together.
Rahab, who is Muslim, is a well-respected expert in his profession. He often gives motivational and charismatic speeches to large audiences. Rahab comes from a working-class background (his father was a carpenter) and has been able to elevate his social status from his parents, by getting a college education and earning a high ranking in the advertising profession.
Nivi, who is Hindu, grew up in wealth and privilege. Her father is Chandan Singh (played by Sharib Hashmi), who is the leader of a political party. Nivi works with her father and is expected to spend her life in politics. She is engaged to an ambitious politician named Vicky (played by Sumeet Vyas), who is likely to be named the deputy of the political party because he will be the future son-in-law of Chandan.
But as is always the case in politics, there are power struggles. Some backstabbing plans have been set in motion by police inspector Sandeep Tomar (played by Sumit Kaul) and Vicky, who are is secretly plotting to have Chandan assassinated. Sandeep tells Vicky that Chandan has to die because Chandan has “grown a conscience.”
The assassination plot comes soon after Vicky and three of his cronies were caught on video beating up some political protestors. The video goes viral. Nivi is alarmed and starts to doubt that Vicky has the type of ethics and character that she wants in a husband. Vicky brushes off her concerns and tries to convince her that the viral video is not work making a fuss over, and people will eventually forget about the video.
The relationship between Vicky and Nivi begins to deteriorate. Knowing that Nivi can influence what Chandan thinks, Vicky secretly wants Chandan out of the way so that Vicky will take over the political party. And then, Nivi finds out that she’s in danger too.
One night, Nivi is out by herself in an open marketplace area. A man suddenly starts to harass her. And then, more men show up and surround Nivi, who is no pushover. It’s a kidnapping attempt, and Nivi fights back with kicks and punches.
Rahab happens to be driving his car though this area the same time, and he witnesses this attack. A frantic Nivi runs up to Rahab’s car, opens the door, and tells him to drive away. The kidnappers chase after them on motorbikes, but Rahab is able to lose them by driving down in an alley. Unfortunately, the car crashes.
The rest of “Afwaah” is a tension-filled journey, as Rahab and Nivi go into hiding. Soon after they meet under these stressful circumstances, Nivi tells Rahab who she is and that she doesn’t want to marry Vicky. “He’s lost his mind since the new alliance,” says Nivi. “He’s become nothing but a power-hungry bigot.”
When Vicky finds out that the kidnapping attempt failed and some people on the street took videos of the incident, Vicky takes the advice of a computer hacker named Bobby (played by Appurv Gupta) to twist the story into making Rahab the villain. Vicky plants a story on social media that Rahab was the real mastermind behind the kidnapping. Vicky’s cronies, who were the actual kidnappers, are praised as “heroes” who tried to save Nivi from Rahab.
This lie spreads on social media and is quickly reported as the truth by mainstream media. The lie gets even more warped with the untruth that Rahab (who is married) and Nivi ran off together to elope in a bigamy situation. The lie seems to have credibility because Nivi is still missing. Rahab then becomes the chief suspect in her disappearance.
Why doesn’t Nivi come forward and tell the truth? She’s afraid that people will believe Vicky over her. She knows that Vicky has a lot of allies in law enforcement, and she doesn’t know who to trust. Nivi and Rahab are also aware that too many people believe the lie because the media coverage has been reporting the lie as the truth.
“Afwaah” is at its best in the scenes of Nivi and Rahab together, since they have the best dialogue in the movie. All the “villains” in “Afwaah” tend to be caricatures. There’s also a somewhat unnecessary subplot involving a murder on Vicky’s property. And the movie goes into soap opera territory with a subplot about corrupt police inspector Rahab (who is married) having a secret affair with a female cop colleague named Riya Rathod (played by T.J. Bhanu), who might or might not find out how he’s involved in an assassination plot.
“Afwaah” also doesn’t do a very good job of showing certain aspects of the “fugitive” part of Nivi and Rahab going into hiding. The scenes involving Rahab’s wife Nandita (played by Eisha Chopra) have melodrama that lowers the quality of the movie. However, the performances of Siddiqui and Pednekar enliven “Afwaah” and bring credible emotional gravitas when needed.
There are plenty of movies about ruthless people trying to gain political power. What’s more interesting about “Afwaah” is how accurately it portrays media manipulation. It’s an insightful commentary on how much social media can play a role in shaping news coverage in mainstream media. If you don’t believe it, look at many mainstream news stories cite anonymous and unverified people on social media as “sources,” when that type of sourcing would not have met journalistic standards at a lot of the same media outlets in previous years. “Afwaah” is a fictional movie, but it’s also a cautionary tale of what can go on in the real world when it comes to media, politics and public images.
Reliance Entertainment released “Afwaah” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on May 5, 2023.