Director Hansal Mehta’s engaging film Faraaz presents a straightforward depiction of the horrific terrorist attack on Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2016, with a special focus on one young man who exhibited moral courage in the face of grave danger.
Though it is inspired by a true event and based more specifically on the book Holey Artisan: A Journalistic Investigation by Nuruzzaman Labu, Mehta and his screenwriters acknowledge taking liberties with some of the details in crafting their narrative. This doesn’t discredit the story in any way, just clarifies why some of the details in the attack’s Wikipedia page don’t line up with the events in the film.
The film’s early scenes bounce between six young men as they prepare to head to Holey Artisan Bakery on a fateful July day. In one crowded apartment, five guys in their late teens and early twenties bicker over breakfast. Rajeev (Godaan Kumar) — an older man who is ostensibly in charge — chides the five for their immaturity before loading them into a school transport van and dropping them off near the bakery. It’s impossible to miss Mehta’s point that these guys are barely adults. Only when they slit the throat of a security guard does it confirm that they are terrorists.
In a mansion across town, Faraaz Hossein (Zahan Kapoor) and his mother Simeen (Juhi Babbar) argue over her insistence that he head to Stanford University for graduate school instead of starting his career in Dhaka. A filmmaker with less faith in his audience would have Faraaz storm out of the house after the argument, manufacturing emotions later when mother and son realize that their last conversation was a fight. In this version, mother and son makeup in the hallway on his way to join friends at the bakery. She tells him she wants him to be happy, and he says he’ll make her proud.
The siege of the bakery is terrifying and gory, with the five men from the apartment shooting patrons and employees who are obviously foreign first, then testing those who remain to identify and spare those who are Bangladeshi Muslims. Nibras (Aditya Rawal) leads the terrorists inside the bakery. (Their handler Rajeev is safely off-site, letting the young guys do his dirty work for him.)
Faraaz and Nibras recognize one another, having played football together while in university. This connection proves a useful distraction, as one of the women Faraaz is with is Hindu. She’s allowed to sit with him and their other friend without having to pass the religious test.
Mehta is not exactly sympathetic to the local police who try to mount a response to the hostage situation. They’re portrayed as overly aggressive despite their lack of protective gear and information about things as simple as the layout of the bakery.The SWAT team that eventually arrives is similarly ineffective.
As the police fumble their response on the outside, tension builds in the bakery because no one understands what the terrorists want. They don’t make any demands or offer any conditions for the hostages’ release. Everyone is forced to sit and wait, with no end in sight. Faraaz’s mother discovers that her political connections can’t help when her son is trapped by people for whom violence is the only point.
The choice to make Faraaz the title character is interesting. He’s not superhero material, and Kapoor spends most of his performance looking like he’s on the verge of tears. But Faraaz is loyal, brave, and protective of his friends. He demonstrates a kind of low-key heroism that all of us can hope to emulate.
While effective at recreating the events of the attack, Faraaz is almost too subtle in its execution. It lacks a strong narrative point of view, relying on the circumstances to keep the audience invested in the characters. The performances and cinematography are competent. Mehta’s trust in his audience to understand why the story is important is commendable, but his approach makes the film feel overly educational.