In a politically charged climate, rumors can often become deadly. Hate trumps everything else, and people have to pay the price for their honesty and goodwill. Sudhir Mishra’s Afwaah weaves a provocative story around this pervasive politics of hate and tries to satirize the situation through the motif of rumors.
The plot begins by showing us the characters placed nicely in their surroundings. Rahab Khan is an entrepreneur running a telecom company. Having returned from abroad, he plans to stay in India to expand his business. Vicky Singh is an up-and-coming politician who is on his way to forming an alliance with a powerful minister by marrying his daughter Nivedita. One fateful night, Rahab gets embroiled in local politics when Nivedita elopes, and Rahab helps coincidentally, saving her from Vicky’s goons. Rumors spread around town about him having forcefully taken Nivedita, and the matter took on a religious color. Soon, the realization hits that they will have to find a way to escape before the rumors become deadly. Let’s take a closer look at the characters:
Nawazuddin Siddiqui As Rahab Khan
Rahab Khan, a successful entrepreneur, is an aspirational man, a youth icon in a sense. He is a man who came from a humble background and made a name for himself. He didn’t even think about his Muslim identity that much, but its seriousness occurred to him only when his path collided with that of Vicky Singh. When he arrived in his hometown, he didn’t have an iota of concern about his well-being. He didn’t think that one single rumor would make people lose all their sense of discernment and try to kill him.
Rahab was on his way to meet his wife, Nandita, at the Nahargarh literature festival, where she was to launch her book. On his way, fortunately, or not, he saw Nivedita being harassed by Vicky’s men. Rahab, who had previously run away from such scenarios, made an attempt to stop the harassment by appealing to people’s consciences. Nivedita, who had no choice, sat in Rahab’s car to get away from the goons, and Rahab drove away, saving her. The two people may have met as strangers, but what was common between them was their integrity. Rahab, who had lied in all his seminars about his New York experience of helping an elderly man against delinquents, had now actually helped someone. The event became an unforgettable one in his life as rumors started to spread that he, a Muslim man, had eloped with a Hindu woman. His disbelief knew no bounds that he, a well-educated, happily married, successful businessman who had just saved a girl from harassment, was being painted as a religious bigot.
Though he is afraid, he never backs away. He isn’t one of those cowards who saw Vicky’s men and did nothing. The fact that he didn’t know how powerful Vicky was might have helped, but later on, when he does find out, he doesn’t leave Nivedita high and dry. He almost pays the price for being a good samaritan with his life when Chandan, one of the most bigoted goons in Vicky’s gang, stabs him. Fortunately, he survives and wakes up in a hospital a month later with a renewed sense of his religious identity, which he had neglected all his life.
Bhumi Pednekar As Nivedita Singh
Nivedita Singh, daughter of a powerful minister, is fed up with the politics of hate her father and her fiance are involved in. She is an educated woman who cannot be tied down by Vicky. She decides to run away rather than be married to a bigot. It only goes to show that she is a headstrong woman, not bowing down to the patriarchal set-up of her family. When Rahab gets into trouble because of her, she takes on the responsibility of helping him, hoping to save him from Vicky’s wrath. She knew they wouldn’t hesitate to kill him and, hence, stood by him till the very end. Unfortunately, she got shot and was unconscious when Rahab got stabbed.
There is not a single bigoted bone in her at all, which is why she goes to ask her friend Saif for help after she and Rahab are being hounded by Vicky’s gang. Her honesty is captured by Rahab in a video that goes viral. In that video, she pours her heart out, citing his father and Vicky’s politics of hate and how she and Rahab had escaped it all, making sure Rahab didn’t have to face the brunt of the malicious rumors. It’s a testament to her willpower that she continues to be on the run even when she gets shot. Apart from her mental strength, her intelligence is also on display when she hugs Vicky because she knows that people would mistake him for Rahab and proceed to lynch him. After the entire fiasco ended, she didn’t run away to live an easier life but joined politics because she realized that the problem wouldn’t be solved by simply avoiding it. According to her father, politicians were just a reflection of the masses, and hence she had to step up to represent the saner voices of society that were being buried under the politics of hate.
Sumeet Vyas As Vicky Singh
Vicky Singh emerges as a villainous yet tragic figure in the story. He must have been a good man before he joined politics, but he became a power-hungry murderer who didn’t even spare his friends in the pursuit of power. He justifies his hateful speeches in his rallies as just being part of a necessary persona in order to climb the political ladder, but he is perhaps losing his own identity in the process. In one of his rallies, Chandan, a friend and his right-hand man is seen involved in riots. When it dawns on him that Chandan would have to be eliminated for the sake of keeping up appearances, his only intention is to save his political career instead of saving Chandan.
When Nivedita elopes and Vicky’s political image seems forever tarnished, the resource of spreading rumors and fake news comes as a savior, and he doesn’t waste time in deploying the weapon, even if it means uprooting several people from their homes, innocents getting lynched, or riots getting incited. All his machiavellian techniques of manipulating Chandan into stabbing Rahab become successful, but ultimately, in a case of poetic justice, he gets lynched by the same mob that he himself had incited using the rumors and the fake news.
Sharib Hashmi As Chandan Singh
The character of Chandan Singh aptly represents the population that starts to blindly trust a politician and becomes too loyal to them with no measures of accountability. He is a hardcore bigot and the leader of Vicky’s gang, and he doesn’t hesitate to kill a Muslim man in a riot. He trusts Vicky as an elder brother, not knowing that Vicky has greenlit his assasination at the hands of a corrupt local cop. When the cop kills an innocent civilian, mistaking him for Chandan, he fears for his life for the first time. Soon, the events start pointing towards the fact that perhaps Vicky is behind his assassination attempts and Chandan starts to have a change of heart.
When running away from the cop, he has to take refuge in a Muslim man’s truck; his pathetic condition is truly revealing. Here was Chandan, who was so filled with hate that he didn’t hesitate to kill a man because of his religion, but now was willing to hide in the truck run by a Muslim man. This only goes to show that people like Chandan are ultimately useful idiots who are being used by people in power. They sway him whichever way they like, which is why, in the end, even though he realizes that Vicky wants him dead, he isn’t able to confront him face-to-face. On the contrary, Vicky is able to manipulate him into stabbing Rahab. His fate of dying after getting shot by the cop only reflects the fact that evil begets evil.