In the opening scene of Love Hostel, set in the darkness, a girl curses Dagar (a mercenary played by Bobby Deol) to fall in love someday. Dagar is unaffected and carries on with his brutal task of severing the nooses, murdering her and her lover. That sets the tone for what we are to see for the next 100 minutes or so in the film directed by Shanker Raman.
Dagar’s next assignment is an interfaith couple, a fierce young woman Jyoti Dilawar (Sanya Malhotra), and a man named Ahmed Shaukeen (Vikrant Massey, who also uses a Hindu sounding name Aashu). The couple has eloped to marry, helped by a teacher and a lawyer, and the police are supposed to protect them in a safe home (the slang to which is ‘Love Hostel’).
As Dagar hunts for this couple in a bloodshed cat-and-mouse game, we are introduced to the disturbing inadequacies of the society, one by one.
We do get a bit of the man’s history revealing us why turned out the way he is. In a scene performed effectively by Deol, Dagar remembers how he lost his beloved brother to suicide (which in itself was the consequence of his daughter marrying a man of her choice). It’s a tragic moment that gave Dagar a purpose, that he sternly believes as social service. He eliminates people who marry the “wrong” people (the society/Dagar get to decide that. Also, the couple here belongs to the same religion – making this point to say this film isn’t to be tagged for what they call love-jihad).
The protagonists (Jyoti and Aashu) are depicted realistically. While there is enough warmth and passion between them, there are also issues. The differences due to their religion and social strata come up time and again and they try to work their ways around them.
The cops at safe homes are more into showing their authority, passing atrocious comments (for example, referring to Muslims as making too many babies) and minting money than actually providing a safe and comfortable place to stay for the couple under threat. It goes without saying that they are also controlled by the rich and the powerful.
The reason with which Jyoti proves that she requires a safe home is an eye opener. Her teenager younger brother has beaten her up black and blue for her choice in love! A young boy gets to abuse his older sisters and dictates their lives – a patriarchal prototype even before attaining adulthood.
A video game playing kid that doesn’t realize murders in his house (Dagar did use a silencer, but still!) is a representation of the virtually lost current generation!
A detail of how easily a minority man gets framed as a terrorist because of a conspiracy plotted by the rich in a lawless land comes across as effective. Nor his son (Aashu) can escape the quandary created due to money matters and religious intolerance.
Children are cleverly used in the film to give hope to the otherwise gruesome film. One little girl reminds Shaukeen of the blood on his face bringing him to the realization of the bloodshed he had gotten into. Another boy breaks Dagar’s gunshot spree by showing him his own wound. We also find a same-sex couple who try to help the lead couple. However, they become bystander victims of Dagar’s ruthless mission where he destroys anything on his way. (The man wouldn’t have approved their relation anyway.)
Some non-human living beings are tactfully used in the film too. A cat that bothers Shaukeen’s ailing mother, a peacock that gives hope to Jyoti, and many canines are used along the way, including the one that gets shot by Dagar. Also, Dagar’s only tender moment we see in the film is with a wounded pup named Bijlee. The pup probably reminds him of his own physically and psychologically wounded self.
Bijlee plays an important part in the film’s end. If anything could melt Dagar, it was the pup. Not only it makes him lose focus on his target once, but also leads him to his end as he follows it on the road with affection! Love “conquers” all, and everyone falls flat (literally) under it, including Dagar. It is also the girl’s curse to Dagar to be in love (opening scene). It nicely rounds up the movie almost as a poetic justice.
The climax where Ahmed and Jyoti die almost simultaneously but at different places, closely followed by Dagar, leaves audience with uncomfortable feelings. While hate had its win, it’s the fight the couple put up, and certain characters (such as the cop and Jyoti’s father) raising to the occasion provide a wee bit of solace. But that’s how this film is, it is not meant to please you, it is telling you a complex story of human behavior and social prejudices.
Although not your typical Bollywood cinema, Love Hostel is similar to Shanker’s first film Gurgaon. It explores the social intolerances layer by layer while we also have a crime thriller going in parallel. The film demands your deeper attention to see through the crime thriller. But even merely as a crime thriller it is an engaging narrative. The chase part itself is meticulously shot and keeps you on the edge all along. However, the best part of this movie is the applaud worthy effort by its director Raman who dared to address several current issues churning the country, from islamophobia to honor killings while making 100 entertaining minutes.
Coming to the performances, pretty much every actor stands up to the mark. The special mentions from the supporting cast would be Swaroopa Ghosh playing the politician strongwoman and the righteous cop Raj Arjun. Sanya Malhotra brings in the fierce attitude required for her role to take bold steps her character demands, given the risks her actions involve. Vikrant Massey simply convinces you of the character’s plight by playing it like his second skin. The two actors have a natural chemistry reminding you of young couples you would have seen around in day to day life.
For Bobby Deol, this is one film where he has completely undone his handsome charming star image to play an unapologetic mercenary with conviction. His tobacco chewing old man gets his accent right, has commanding body language and screen presence (just watch him walk down the hallways like a lone wolf with a gun). He also convinces you of his stern beliefs for which he kills, in that one emotional scene he gets to do – arguably the actor’s career-best.
Love Hostel is a must-watch for Bobby Deol, for Sanya Malhotra and Vikrant Massey, for the director’s courage and also for the splendid dialogues, crafty screenplay, effective cinematography and gripping background score. Most importantly, the film points out at social intolerances with sheer honesty leaving uncomfortable but thought provoking impacts in viewers’ minds.
Love Hostel is streaming on ZEE5.