The social drama Hurdang fails to build a persuasive case for the odious politics it endorses.
Hurdang is set at a college campus in Allahabad in 1990. Local goon and opportunist Loha Singh (Vijay Varma) wants to increase his political profile. He seizes upon the announced implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations — which would increase the number of university admissions and government jobs reserved for people from Other Backward Classes — as an opportunity to stoke unrest on campus and gain attention.
Loha uses his right-hand man Daddu (Sunny Kaushal) to activate the upper caste students at several area colleges. Daddu is enrolled in university, but you’d hardly know it since he never studies or goes to class. He carries multiple guns with him and is quick to point them at anyone who gives him even a minor hassle.
Daddu’s pitch to get the students to protest against the government is that the predominantly upper caste students currently enrolled in university have made their plans expecting a certain amount of government jobs to be available to them upon graduation, and that changing the rules now unfairly penalizes them. The movie makes only passing mention of the generational damage caused by systemic caste discrimination.
Writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s choice to put Daddu at the center of this story is absurd. Daddu has no chance of graduating as a result of his own (non-existent) efforts, so he plans to get the final exam questions from Loha in advance and cheat. He does not see his own cheating as being at odds with the system of meritocracy he believes exists and that the reservation system supposedly undermines. What matters to the narrative is that Daddu is a victim.
The notion of Daddu as a victim is even more ridiculous considering the privileges Daddu enjoys thanks to his relationship with Loha — and by extension the politicians Loha works for. Twice, Daddu steals a baton from a police officer and beats the officer with it, and he never faces any consequences for it. Daddu is above the law in almost every respect, but the film really wants viewers to feel sorry for him.
Bhat’s story is so lopsided that it barely acknowledges that people from lower castes exist, let alone suffer under a system rigged against them. Daddu’s much more academically talented girlfriend Jhulan (Nushrratt Bharuccha) is herself from a lower caste — a fact that’s only relevant for a scene in which her father tells her to wait until the reservation quota has been updated to take her finals so that she’ll have an easier time getting a government job. Jhulan is portrayed as virtuous for wanting to test right away and pass on her own merits. From the movie’s perspective, benefiting from a rule change is more egregious than stealing an exam and cheating.
The political position Bhat takes with his story is gross, but he doesn’t even do a good job of defending it. Hurdang is awful.