August 31, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Pranay Meshram
Hindi and Arabic with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Iraq and in India in 2014, the action film “Akelli” has an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An Indian woman is kidnapped by ISIS terrorists in Iraq and must fight to survive.
Culture Audience: “Akelli” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and tacky “women in peril” movies.
“Akelli” is such a relentlessly moronic film, it almost seems like a parody of bad movies, except this awful action flick takes itself way too seriously. The airplane scene toward the end is one of the worst. “Akelli” is just a pile-on of bad dialogue and one unrealistic scenario after another.
Directed by Pranay Meshram, “Akelli” was written by Meshram, Gunjan Saxena and Ayush Tiwari. The movie takes place in 2014 and begins by showing garment factory worker Jyoti Arora (played by Nushrratt Bharuccha), who is a native of India, with other women from the factory being herded like cattle in Mosul, Iraq. The women are being kidnapped by ISIS terrorists, who want to abuse the women and force them to take part in terrorist activities.
How did Jyoti end up in this awful situation? “Akelli” (which means “alone” in Hindi) has flashbacks to show the events that led up to this kidnapping. Six months before the kidnapping, Jyoti (a bachelorette with no children) living in Punjab India, and working an airport employee whose job was to direct planes on the tarmac. However, Jyoti gets fired when she interferes in a fight between an elderly co-worker named Devendra Suri (played by Nand Chopra) and an aggressive passenger.
Jyoti goes to an employment agency and asks supervisor Ranjit Chawla (played by Rajesh Jais) for help in finding a job. Ranjit tells her about a “temporary” job working in a garment factory for one month. The pay is ₹80,000 for the month, which would be about $1,296 in U.S. dollars in 2014. The catch is that the job is in Mosul, Iraq.
Ranjit says the employer will pay for all the travel expenses. Jyoti is desperate for money, so she accepts this job offer. Jyoti’s mother thinks it’s a bad idea. Jyoti’s young niece Mahi (played by Mannat Duggal) also doesn’t want Jyoti to go, because it would mean that Jyoti would miss Mahi’s birthday.
Jyoti goes to Iraq and finds out that the garment factory job is a “sweatshop” situation with long hours. The workers who have arrived from India have their passports confiscated by factory supervisor Noor Bano (played by Shivani Sopori), who turns out to be a hellish boss. Shortly after arriving in Iraq, there’s word that the Oman capital of Muscat will soon be invaded, and all Indian citizens must evacuate territories where there is active ISIS terrorism.
Jyoti hears from employment agency supervisor Ranjit that a plane ticket has been sent for her to go back to India. She asks Noor about it, but Noor says she hasn’t heard anything about a plane ticket for Jyoti. (Noor is lying, or course.) With no money and with her passport confiscated, Jyoti is stuck in Iran. And then the kidnapping happens.
The rest of “Akelli” shows many melodramatic and increasingly silly ways that Jyoti fights to survive. There’s also some sexual violence depicted in the film. Jyoti is told that she has to be the “wife” of a terrorist soldier named Afra (played by Munisa Halmanova), who rapes her. Afra’s cruel ISIS commander is Wahab (played by Amir Boutrous), who has an even more ruthless ISIS commander named Assad (played by Tsahi Halevi), who notices that Jyoti is more courageous than the average kidnapping victim.
“Akelli” is almost offensive to real-life kidnapping victims in how it presents this survival story, especially a scene near the end when Akelli takes a big risk on a plane that would surely get her killed in real life. The acting performances in the movie aren’t very good. There’s also a lot of manufactured suspense, while many of the fight scenes look too phony. “Akelli” seems to have no self-awareness of how horrible it is. This lack of self-awareness makes a bad movie look worse.
Reliance Entertainment/Zee Studios released “Akelli” in U.S. cinemas and in India on August 25, 2023.