Mulk is a well thought out film that has a lot to say. It's a comment on truth vs justice, terrorism, various forms of terrorism and most importantly, the Islamophobia that plagues our nation.
The film begins beautifully with the morning Azaan merging seamlessly with Ram Naam Satya Hain, with a bearded Muslim man passing by a wall that reads in big bold letters Om Namah Shivay. Such strong visuals prepare us for the main premise of the film; a Muslim family ousted by law and society when they discover their son, Shahid (Prateik Babbar) was a part of a terrorist group involved in a bomb blast in Allahbad.
Courtroom dramas based on social issues become interesting when it presents a strong debate of arguments and effective counter arguments, involving viewers, challenging their prejudices and eventually making them feel ashamed of their thinking.
Mulk, like Pink, ticks all these boxes and attacks one by one, all the baseless, pointless biases of the prosecution played by Santosh (Ashutosh Rana). Defence lawyer Aarti (Tapsee Pannu) defines terrorism, as violence or intimidation against civilians in pursuit of political or societal gains. She establishes that terrorism is devoid of any religion and that it's much more than just Islamic terrorism. She raises questions on untouchability, class divides and the injustice against tribals as other examples of terrorism that we don't even talk about.
Anubhav Sinha has taken all radical arguments and punctured them one by one in the court scenes of the film. It talks about how politics have divided the country in 'us' and 'them'. It brilliantly lambastes the privileged condescending attitude of Hindus who claim to have welcomed Muslims into 'our' country. Ali Mohammed (Rishi Kapoor) wonders, "How can you welcome me in my own home?" Reiterating the fact that the country belongs to everyone.
Anubhav is also mindful of the fact that hatred begets hatred. So when prosecution points fingers at Ali Mohammed, he deals with provocation with utmost maturity and says, " You question me with love, I will present you my heart but if you point fingers at me, then I am just answerable to my conscience and my country.' He doesn't deal hatred with more hatred, instead he deals with them using principles.
Such clear, aware and mature writing puts Mulk in a high league. There is a fabulous scene when Aarti questions the anti-terrorist cop Danish Javed (Rajat Kapoor) and this juxtaposition of a privileged Hindu standing up for minority and crossing over in empathy to fight for a disillusioned Muslim cop, is a shining example of clever, smart writing.
Thankfully the film doesn't reduce the judge to just a disinterested "order, order". Kumudh Mishra, brilliant as he is, takes a neutral, firm stand during the proceedings of the case and gets his moment of glory towards the end.
The first half of the courtroom drama might look exhausting as prosecutor Santosh makes it more of a religious, Hindu-Muslim debate rather than treating the case individually. But stay with it because Aarti later uses the same religious grounds to expose the biased mindset of Santosh and everyone present in the court. This moment reminded me of Hannah Gadsby's one hour Netflix special, Nanette, when she attacks privileged white men and then asks them to loosen up and take it as a harmless joke, something they have been telling people with alternate sexuality for years.
Each and every scene in the film is written with purpose. Be it the father who questions his own community when they tag his terrorist son as a martyr or when he questions the police officer for not filing a complaint against those hooligans who pelted stones at his family at night, raising valid questions on the idea of terrorism.
Rishi Kapoor is in top form as a character actor. Manoj Pahwa brings vulnerability to an otherwise grim movie. Neena Gupta is adorable as a mother and teller of engaging family stories. Prateik Babbar looks convincingly enraged especially in the encounter scene.
Tapsee Pannu lands the most important lines in the second half and she delivers. There are a couple of moments, where it feels like she has forgotten her lines. You might observe her monologues being cut with shots of other people in the court to iron out the rough edges in her speech. But she never forgets the conviction of the film's message. There is a lot that the film questions in her monologues but the sheer clarity in both, the writing and her delivery makes every argument land with aplomb. The film starts with Aarti's disagreement with her Muslim husband on deciding the religion of the baby. I wish they had resolved that towards the end of the film too.
Mulk is a relevant film. At a time when people are killed for being rumoured, mind you, RUMOURED, to have beef at home, it becomes imperative for us to watch a film like Mulk and revisit our ideas of religion and terrorism.