Review: ‘Faraaz,’ starring Zahan Kapoor, Aditya Rawal and Juhi Babbar Soni

February 5, 2023

by Carla Hay

Aditya Rawal and Zahan Kapoor in “Faraaz” (Photo courtesy of Reliance Entertainment)


Directed by Hansal Mehta

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2016, primarily in Dhaka, Bangladesh (and briefly in Mumbai, India), the dramatic film “Faraaz” (based on true events) features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Five young male terrorists commit a massacre and take hostages at a restaurant in Dhaka, and it’s soon revealed that one of the captives and one of the hostage takers used to know each other as schoolmates. 

Culture Audience: “Faraaz” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a dramatic and somewhat formulaic retelling of a tragedy from the perspective of someone who became an unexpected hero.

Aditya Rawal (standing), Zahan Kapoor, Pallak Lalwani and Reshham Sahaani in “Faraaz” (Photo courtesy of Reliance Entertainment)

Based on true events, “Faraaz” is an intense thriller that rises above some of its hostage-movie clichés with credible performances from most of the cast. People who already know the outcome of what happened in real life will not find any surprises in “Faraaz.” However, the story is different from most other hostage movies because it focuses on what happens when one of the hostage victims finds out that one of the hostage takers is a former schoolmate.

What types of psychological effects does this knowledge have on the victim? Will the victim feel more empowered or more vulnerable? And will this past connection help or hurt the victim and the other hostages? All of these questions are explored in subtle and obvious ways throughout “Faraaz,” which also shows how the hostage taker is affected by having a prior connection to a hostage victim. Ritesh Shah, Kashyap Kapoor and Raghav Kakkar wrote the “Faraaz” screenplay. “Faraaz” had its world premiere at the 2022 BFI London Film Festival.

Directed by Hansal Mehta, “Faraaz” takes place in 2016, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where the tragedy occurred in real life. The movie’s title character is 20-year-old Faraaz Hossain (played by Zahan Kapoor), who comes from an affluent family. Faraaz’s mother Simeen (played by Juhi Babbar Soni, also known as Juhi Babbar) is a high-ranking executive at Eskayef Bangladesh Limited, Transcom Consumer Products Limited, and Transcom Distribution Limited—all companies owned by Transcom Group, the corporation founded by Simeen’s father, Latifur Rahman.

Faraaz and his older brother Zaraif (played by Amir Shoeb) live with Simeen, who is a single parent. (Muhammad Waquer Bin Hossain, the real-life father of Faraaz and Zaraif, is not mentioned in the movie.) Simeen has the nickname Chhotu (or “little one”) for Faraaz. In the beginning of the movie, Simeen is annoyed with her sons because she had plans to go with them on a family vacation to Malaysia to celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, but those plans went awry because the sons wanted to stay in Bangladesh.

Simeen and Faraaz also argue because she wants Faraaz and Zaraif to enroll in Stanford University in the United States. However, Faraaz wants to continue to go to school in Bangladesh. (In real life, Faraaz was a student at Emory University in Atlanta, and he was in Bangladesh while on a summer break from Emory.) Faraaz gets so upset, he storms out of the house, but he eventually returns and tells his mother that he’s sorry about the argument. Simeen makes an apology too, and she says that she will no longer pressure Faraaz and Zaraif about which university she wants them to attend.

Meanwhile, five men in their late teens and 20s are gathered in a room and eating on the floor together like roommates. They could easily pass for university students who share living quarters, but these young men are not at a university and the instructions they’ve been getting aren’t for a university education. They’ve been getting instructions on how to be radical Islamic terrorists.

Their leader is a man in his 30s named Rajiv (played by Godaan Kumar), who has been indoctrinating these young men into thinking that anyone who isn’t a devout Muslim is their enemy. Rajiv has masterminded an extreme plan to get attention for their fanatical causes. It’s a plan that he’s discussed with this group before, in conversations not shown in the movie, but the members of the group have been reluctant to carry out this plan.

What is shown in the movie is that Rajiv is now demanding that the group show loyalty and that they must execute the plan, or else he will think that they are cowards. After Rajiv scolds them and shames them, all five agree to do what Rajiv wants. A pleased-looking Rajiv drives off with the five young men together in a van. Viewers will soon see the diabolical plan that Rajiv has now set in motion.

It’s July 1, 2016, during the day. Faraaz, his female friend Tarika (played by Pallak Lawani) and Tarika’s neighbor Ayesha (played by Reshham Sahaani) are dining together at Holey Artisan Bakery, a popular casual restaurant in Dhaka. Many of the restaurant’s customers are tourists. What starts out as normal day turns into a nightmare for the people inside the restaurant and their loved ones.

The five men from Rajiv’s terrorist group storm inside the restaurant with assault weapons, including shotguns and rifles that they shoot indiscriminately inside the restaurant. Many people are shot and killed instantly. Some are wounded. A warning to sensitive viewers: The violence in this movie is very graphic.

The killers then take hostage of everyone who is still alive who can be found inside the restaurant. The hostages are mixture of locals and tourists. A few employees working in the back of the restaurant manage to escape during this mass shooting, and they contact law enforcement immediately.

The five terrorists who’ve committed these heinous crimes are Nibras (played by Aditya Rawal), Rohan (played by Sachin lalwani), Mobashir (played by Jatin Sarin), Bikash (played by Harshal Pawar) and Kairul (played by Ninaad Sahaunak Bhatt), who show varying degrees of cruelty during this killing spree. Nibras is the “alpha male” of the five, since he is the one who gives the orders. Rohan is a sadistic hothead who seems to take a great deal of pleasure in killing people, sometimes with “overkill,” by shooting people who are already dead. The rest of the group members have generic personalities.

The terrorists try to weed out the people whom they think are worth saving by randomly demanding hostage victims to cite scripture from the Quran. If the hostages can’t do it, they are shot and killed. Faraaz and some other people are spared for this reason. During this interrogation, Faraaz notices that Nibras is a former schoolmate of his. Faraaz and Nibras also used to play on the same soccer team.

At one point, Faraaz asks Nibras: “How brainwashed are you?” Nibras shouts in response: “You’re the one who’s brainwashed!” Because these terrorists have ultra-conservative Muslim views, they show particular contempt for the female hostages who are are not wearing dresses and don’t have their hair covered with hijabs. Tarika is wearing jeans, and Ayesha is wearing denim shorts, and they both are wearing nothing on their heads, so you can imagine the verbal abuse and other harassment that they get from the terrorists.

Most of the movie is filmed as events take place in “real time,” which adds to the level of tension. Many things that happen inside this under-siege restaurant are what you might expect in a hostage movie. Other things are somewhat unexpected. For example, one of the terrorists shows glimmers of compassion, which is met with a lot of resistance from some of his cohorts. Will these conflicts in the group make a difference in saving lives?

Because the movie is told mainly from the perspective of Faraaz, there isn’t much that is told about the other hostages and murder victims inside the restaurant. A compassionate man named Dr. Salim Mujahid (played by Premji Jhangiani), one of the hostages who was able to quote from the Quran, treats a non-critical wound that Farah has behind his left ear. (This isn’t spoiler information, since the trailer for “Faraaz” shows that he gets wounded.)

A long-haired musician named Zaraif (played by Amir Shoeb), who has an acoustic guitar with him, is forced to play Muslim music for the terrorists. In another scene in the movie, the terrorists force Zaraif is to pose for a photo next to dead body, and they order Zaraif to smile for the camera during this sickening act. Because of his “hippie” appearance, Zaraif also becomes a target of scorn from the terrorists.

And where is Rajiv during all this madness and mayhem? He’s working in an office building, and he’s gleefully watching the events unfold through videos and photos that the terrorists have been sending to him on his phone during this rampage. Like the master manipulator that he is, Rajib has gotten his minions to do his dirty work, while he has ensured an alibi for himself during this crime spree. But he’s not very smart, because the videos and photos sent to him are evidence that can be used against him.

Meanwhile, Simeen, Zaraif and Tarika’s father Sudhir (played by Ahmir Ali) are outside the restaurant, frantically trying to get updates from the law enforcement officers who have surrounded the place in a tense standoff with the terrorists. The officers involved in this crisis include Commissioner Acchadujjaman (played by Danish Iqbal), RAB Officer Benazir (played by Kaushik Raj Chakraborty), Senior Inspector Farooq (played by Nitin Goyal), Deputy Commissioner Mushtaq (played by Aditya Mahajan) and SWAT officer Manirul (played by Rohan Roy). All of these law enforcement agents are portrayed in a standard manner in this movie.

A lot of chaos happens during this hostage crisis, but the movie skillfully keeps coming back to the way that the past acquaintance connection between Faraaz and Nibras will affect both of them in their thoughts and actions. In addition to solid acting from the principal cast members, “Faraaz” has very effective editing and cinematography that can immerse viewers into thing happening inside and outside the restaurant.

The movie’s introduction has a statement saying that “Faraaz” is dedicated to the heroes of this tragedy. But just like any movie about real people who were murdered, “Faraaz” is getting criticism for being exploitative. Most of this criticism is coming from people who haven’t seen the movie.

People who actually watch the entire film will probably find some of the violence disturbing, but “Faraaz” does not put any shame or exploitation on the victims, nor does it glamorize the terrorists. And although most of the characters in “Faraaz” get surface-level personalities, it’s because of the “real-time” pacing of the movie. There are no “flashbacks” to show the lives of the individual hostages.

Viewers are invited to think about why two men who went to the same school and share the same religion could end up in two very different places in how they think that religion should be a part of their lives and the lives of other people. There are no easy answers, and the “Faraaz” wisely chose not to spend any screen time showing how Rajiv persuaded his terrorist subordinates to do his bidding. The best takeaway from “Faraaz”—and the clear intention of the movie—is to show that even among atrocities and deep despair, there can also be courage and kindness that are stronger than any terrorist act.

Reliance Entertainment released “Faraaz” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on February 3, 2023.

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