Five armed men walk into a busy café and open fire, killing everyone except people from their religion. They mount this attack on the idea that their religion, their way of life, is ‘in khatra (danger)’ from an unseen adversary.
One night of terror and a hostage situation takes the audience on an intelligent journey; a story of violence made malleable in the able hands of director Hansal Mehta.
Faraaz, directed by Mehta and written by Ritesh Shah, Kashyap Kapoor, and Raghav Raj Kakker, tells the story of the 2016 attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
In DOP Pratham Mehta’s hands, the film looks almost like a documentary (though the disclaimer makes clear that it is not one) and this lack of dense sensationalism works in the film's favour.
The camerawork is intuitive and simple, almost separating the audience from the action till they’re thrust into it. The film starts off in relative calm but there is an impending sense of doom that soon translates to a hostage crisis as bodies begin to line the dining hall and boundaries of a swanky cafe.
The screenplay and direction in Faraaz is exquisite and it is supported by an incredibly memorable cast. The movie takes its name from the late Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, a young Bangladeshi Muslim man who lost his life in the attack.
Faraaz, portrayed brilliantly by debutant Zahan Kapoor, refuses to back down in the face of terror and is the main force challenging the attackers’ ideology and arguments. He refuses to leave his friends behind despite multiple chances to do so.
Kapoor plays his role with impeccable restraint and his noteworthy performance is matched by that of antagonist Nibras (Aditya Rawal) , the terrorists’ unspecified leader.
Nibras, captures the essence of his character well. He is menacing and erratic. He kills without remorse but makes sure the kids in the room are safe. And yet, soon, he hands the kids a gun. Through all of this, Rawal excels and it’s a performance that is tough to ignore.
Through a hushed conversation between Faraaz and his friends, the audience is told that Faraaz and Nibras used to study (and play football) together. That makes the contrast in the paths the men have taken in life even darker. One of the film’s most thought-provoking moments comes from a heated discussion between the two, neither yielding.
On the other side of the story, we see families struggling to find out if their loved ones are safe. The loudest voice is that of Faraaz’s mother, played by Juhi Babbar. She commands the screen in every scene even though she spends most of the time in a quiet fury.
Her entitlement frustrating, but in this case understandable, and her grief palpable, Babbar adds to the high emotional core.
In a story about Islamist terror in today’s political landscape, a sensitive lens is necessary and Faraaz is a story told with such a lens.
The story uses all its avenues to explore the difference between religion and extremism, and urges viewers to think about how identity differs from ideology even as the latter drives the film.
Mehta succeeds in inducing terror and apprehension without exploiting the film’s subjects. The only time this sensitivity suffers is when the shots of people with bullet wounds show up on the screen for the umpteenth time.
The effect fades after the first few times and comes off as relying on shock value to get the story across in a film that doesn’t need it.
Faraaz keeps its gaze firmly on the humans in the film, telling the same story from multiple angles but keeping the audience hooked despite a few issues in pacing.
Some cliches are utilised and some scenes could’ve been left out for a more concise story but at the end of the day, Faraaz is a gut-punch in the form of a film that leaves you thinking.
And make you think it should.