Gurgaon  director Shanker Raman returns to Haryana again, and this time he picks on the sensitive issue of inter-faith marriages, honour killings.
Rating: 3 / 5
By Mayur Lookhar
Nature has set boundaries. So why should mankind be any different. But it is only human who crosses boundaries. In a society drawn on ethnic, religious, economic lines, a union of unequals is deemed immoral. Love is often the first in line to be crushed. Yes, there are the tragic stories, tales of suppression, but India, and its 1.3 billion people have a come a long way from its set societal boundaries to embracing pluralism. The many inter-caste, inter-faith marriages are a positive sign but it is the tragic tales that the liberals rightly condemn through all forms of media.
Inter-faith marriages have often been a tricky issue for filmmakers who cop Hinduphobia, Love Jihad criticism. But the same liberals, who praise bold stories, are quick to term anti-terror films as Islamophobia. Chuck aside the bigots, trolls, but Hindi cinema has often been criticized for presenting a lopsided, immature view and often selective activism. There are very few examples of a balanced perspective. The temptation to resort to extreme brutality to draw home their point often breaks the deal for such cinema.
Producers Shah Rukh Khan, Gauri Khan and director Shanker Raman would care two hoots for the bigot trolls, but hopefully, they would sportingly take all the polarizing views that a subject like inter-faith marriage evokes in this nation. In his brief career as a director, Shanker Raman has made a name for himself by upsetting the applecart. His maiden directorial Gurgaon  touched upon patriarchy, female infanticide. He travels to Haryana again as his film Love Hostel  touches upon the sensitive issue of inter-faith marriages, honor killings.
Jyoti Dilawar [Sanya Malhotra], granddaughter of a local powerful political figure, elopes with the local butcher boy Ashu [Vikrant Massey] and take refuge in a government safe house that is referred to as a love hostel. It houses many such couples. The couple though is being chased by a ruthless mercenary Viraj Singh Dagar [Bobby Deol], hired by Jyoti’s grandmother Kamla Dilawar [Swaroopa Ghosh].
Honour killing is a subject explored countless times in TV and cinema before. Kunal Sharma’s concept is churned into a fairly intense screenplay by director Raman and his co-writers Mehak Jamal and Yogi Singha. Though a work of fiction, but the plotline mirrors the gruesome tales of hate crimes, honour killings, particularly in the state of Haryana. A theatrical release was next to impossible and so producer Shah Rukh Khan played it safe by opting for an OTT release.
Raman was much lauded for his gripping direction in Gurgaon . While Love Hostel captures the tension around inter-faith marriages brilliantly, but it lacks the gripping intensity of a Gurgaon. The social message(s) is passed through nuanced scenes. Love Hostel sheds light on the milieu under which such unions find shelter. There is a conceited effort to camouflage certain names. It takes a good 10-15 minutes to realise the full name of Ashu i.e., Ahmed Shokeen.
Raman’s Love Hostel primarily consists of liberal lovers. It is guilty though of selective liberalism. Ashu tells Jyoti that he had to drop his ailing mother to his aunt’s place because she would have never allowed a bride without veil. A Love Hostel harps more on the bigotry, patriarchy by the majority, but barely explores the extremism on the other side. Never forget, people usually elope when there is opposition from both families. Yes, no system, police is perfect, but Islamic terrorism is no fallacy either. Nobody wishes to brush aside atrocities against innocents, especially minorities, but projecting a minority as victim of fake terrorism charge is a banal trope now.
Bollywood was once guilty of romanticizing ‘union of unequals with impunity in escapist dramas of the 80s, 90s that blatantly discounted the economic cost of such courting. While a Love Hostel adopts a practical approach but they also run the risk of stereotyping communities, state.
Whilst they certainly didn’t face such hardships, but Shah Rukh and Gauri Khan can relate to their protagonists’ struggles. After all, they themselves had to overcome socio, religious, economic barriers to solemnize their relationship. However, it is a tad surprising for Khan to be associated with a Love Hostel. After all, the man’s legend lies in breaking away from the dangerous trend of encouraging eloping in Hindi cinema with an exceptional film like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge .
The political powerplays is self-explanatory (and well etched out), but Raman does well to not demonise the entire Dilawar family. Jyoti’s father Randhir [Yogesh Tiwari] and minor sister Babli [ Simran Rawal] are sane voices in the Dilawar household. But her mother Savita [Kumkum Jain] and young brother Rakesh [Yudhvir Ahlawat] are creatures of patriarchy. “Wish I had choked her to death at birth, so we didn’t have to live to see this day,” a frustrated Savita tells in front of the family. Randhir reminds her wife to thank her own mother for not thinking on same lines.
For any change, it is youth that leads the way. That though is missing in Raman’s Love Hostel. The ghastly portrayal of a young Yudhvir is disturbing. Besides, watching a liitle geeky girl mutter, “Wow! You [Ashu] got blood on your face” with two policemen and two badmen gunned down is simply not cool. There is a dangerous culture of guns in powerful North India families, especially during weddings but exposing children to violence on screen is best avoidable.
Love Hostel’s method to exposing honour killings, hate crime is likely to trigger polarized views. The fundamental debate notwithstanding, but mixed performances is a minus. Massey never really grabs the Haryanvi accent, nor does he convince you as a minority butcher. While liberal values are usually a result of value education, but can they be found in an underprivileged minority person, who perhaps must have been exposed to extreme religious ideology?
They are in a dire situation but Sanya Malhotra maintains her composure through most of the film. As the only privileged member in this relationship, Jyoti is naturally a strong character. The Delhi girl can relate with the patriarchy in the region well. However, given the socio-economic condition of Ashu, it is hard to believe how a descendant of a power political family would elope with a terror accused’s son? Well, in Bollywood love is blind. The usual, brickbats of Love jihad, Hinduphoba will come her way, but hope the same bigots don’t lose sight of the dialogue where Jyoti tells Ashu that unprotected sex is the reason for population explosion among your people [minority community]. For all her talent, you still get a sense that director Raman has perhaps underused Sanya’s talent here.
Punjabi Bobby Deol is currently trying to make a mark in his second innings in Hindi film industry. The Haryani accent is not chaste, but perhaps Dagar would have been better served to be armed with a Haryanvi vile tongue. So, the usual profane words beti@#@$ come out as simply betike. Hey, if it was always meant to be an OTT release, then why not go totally rustic? The salt and pepper look, deep eyes build a certain intimidating factor around Dagar. However, he is basically a desi version of Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem’s dangerous invincible assassin character in the Academy Award winner No Country for Old Men , that was adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel of the same name
Like Anton, Dagar, too, is a cold-blooded murderer who believes he is chosen to punish those who defy tradition. In the records, Dagar died 12 years ago, but he roams like a ghost killing his targets with impunity. In his eyes, he is a social worker who is to bring the runaway grooms/brides to justice. Unlike Anton, he doesn’t have any improvised armory, but a simple silent gun to kill his victims. He can kill anyone from far, yet remarkably, he always misses the key targets Ashu and Jyoti by a whisker. While Deol perhaps matches Anton in physical intimidation, but Dagar needed a bit more to be invincible like Anton. The final encounter has a No Country for Old Men hangover. The director has clearly taken a bit too much liberty here.
There is a good cop in this story too, but Sushil Rathi [Raj Arjun] is tied by the ugly politics of the land. Arjun though is fairly competent in his retrained character. The supporting cast are all competent.
Love Hostel scores well on its production design, cinematography. Though a familiar story, Raman gives his touch to the issue. In the ever-increasing and thriving middle class, where youth are deemed wise in taking professional and personal decisions, eloping is most likely abhorred in new India. Director Abhishek Kapoor gave us a more acceptable inter-faith love story in Kedarnath . Shanker Raman’s Love Hostel is gruesome, polarizing but it sends its message across. Don’t think Raman and Shah Rukh Khan are really eyeing any brownies points from the masses. This Love Hostel might appease the liberals, but it could be abhorred by young India, who still values family integrity, if not tradition.
Love Hostel is streaming on Zee5. Watch the trailer below.