A bystander’s good deed puts him in danger in the smart political thriller Afwaah (“Rumor“).
Politician Gyaan Singh runs the town of Sawalpur in Rajasthan. Singh’s daughter Nivi (Bhumi Pednekar) is engaged to her dad’s presumed successor, Vicky Bana (Sumeet Vyas), who has national political ambitions. Sawalpur has avoided inter-religious conflict thus far, but Vicky uses a scuffle at a rally in the Muslim part of town as an excuse for a show of force. His goons beat residents, and Vicky himself is captured on camera giving instructions to his lackey Chandan (Sharib Hashmi), who drags a Muslim butcher into a shuttered shop. The butcher is later found dead.
The melee is more than just a headache for the party. Nivi wants no part of Vicky’s violence, and she runs off while her father is in the hospital. Vicky sends his goons to track her down.
They catch Nivi in the town square right as advertising executive Rahab Ahmed (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is passing through in his Range Rover. He’s on his way from his dad’s house in a village nearby to his wife’s book launch at an historic fort a couple of hours away. Rahab stops when he sees Vicky’s men grab Nivi, and soon the two are fleeing in his car with Vicky’s henchmen in pursuit.
Afwaah takes a comprehensive view of the way political power is exercised through violence and misinformation. When Vicky employs violence at the rally as a display of authority, he unleashes a force into the world that will grow and soon be out of his control. He doesn’t understand that, but Nivi and her dad do. With an army of eager thugs at his disposal and a police inspector Tomar (Sumit Kaul) on the payroll, Vicky thinks he’s untouchable.
That also makes him hypersensitive to being perceived as weak. Nivi’s flight looks bad for Vicky, as does video of him and his cronies harassing her and Rahab. That’s where misinformation comes in. Vicky’s communications guy proposes flipping the video’s narrative to make it appear as though Vicky was trying to save Nivi from being kidnapped by Rahab in an act of “#lovejihad.” Just like violence, Vicky sees bigotry as an expedient tool but doesn’t understand the danger it poses, even to him.
With such loaded themes to explore, Afwaah is very plot-dense. Add to that subplots about a botched assassination attempt on Chandan and Inspector Tomar’s romantic affair with a subordinate officer, and character development takes a backseat. Siddiqui and Pednekar give workmanlike performances, but the movie is more about getting Rahab and Nivi from Point A to Point B. The cast does the job that’s asked, even when that means letting the message command most of the spotlight.