Love Hostel, On ZEE5, Delivers A Harrowing Experience But Lacks Emotional Depth, Film Companion

Director: Shanker Raman
Writers: Shanker Raman, Mehak Jamal, Yogi Singha
Cast: Sanya Malhotra, Vikrant Massey, Bobby Deol
Cinematographer: 
Vivek Shah
Editor: 
Nitin Baid, Shan Mohammed
Streaming on: ZEE5

First, let’s celebrate the reinvention of Bobby Deol. In the 1990s, the actor made women swoon with his curly hair and dashing good looks – the media dubbed him the Italian Stallion. He then disappeared and re-emerged with the utterly forgettable Race 3, in which he walked, bare-chested, in slow motion, with co-star Salman Khan. But with the blockbuster web series Aashram, Atul Sabharwal’s Class of ’83 and now Love Hostel, Bobby finally seems to have found his groove. Freed from the constraints of beauty, box office and the burden of being a hero, Bobby has unboxed his far more delicious dark side. His frayed handsomeness makes his actions even more disturbing. In Love Hostel, he plays Dagar, a man scarred from the inside and the outside. And the actor is utterly terrifying.

Love Hostel is what you might call a Haryana Noir Western. Director Shanker Raman, who also made the terrific Gurgaon, goes back to the badlands. Once again, we are in a hellscape overrun by lawlessness, communalism, misogyny and toxic patriarchy. In this environment, the Hindu granddaughter of the local MLA falls in love with a Muslim boy whose father has been arrested on the false charges of being a terrorist. No prizes for guessing how that plays out.

 

Shanker, who has also written the screenplay along with co-writers Mehak Jamal and Yogi Sinha, isn’t interested in providing viewers comfort or respite. Love Hostel begins and ends with death. The sense of foreboding and dread that the director skilfully constructs will remind you of the first short in Dibakar Banerjee’s superb 2010 film, Love Sex Aur Dhokha, which also dealt with honour killing. And Dagar seems to be the desi brother of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, a twisted psychopath on a mission of samaj sudhaar. Another character refers to him as Yamraj. Dagar’s finale also somewhat echoes what happens to Chigurh.

The title Love Hostel refers to safe houses created by the government for couples whose lives are under threat. It is where Jyoti and Ahmed land up after marriage, desperate to escape her murderous family. Shanker imagines this space as a seedy oasis run by overweight, corrupt cops, where lovers who disobey the iron-clad rules of this world can find a semblance of peace. The walls at the entrance are covered with graffiti, almost as though runaway couples insist on making their love real by scribbling it on the walls. There are bunk beds and a designated spot behind diaphanous, hoisted sarees for lovemaking. It’s a strange, surreal room filled with emotions that have no meaning or value in this monstrous landscape.

But sadly, we don’t spend enough time here. Love Hostel is mostly a chase film with Dagar in hot pursuit of his prey – Jyoti and Ahmed. Shanker has a real talent for creating tension and shock. The first half of Love Hostel is a bloody, gripping nightmare. But in the second hour, the brutality becomes less interesting. As the body count rises – everyone is trigger-happy here – the violence starts to feel like a gratuitous glue trying to hold the plot together. This film’s motto is: When in doubt, kill.

Jyoti and Ahmed are played with just the right touch of desperation and vulnerability by Sanya Malhotra and Vikrant Massey. Jyoti is more impetuous and assertive. But Ahmed is conditioned by a lifetime of being treated like a second-class citizen so his default mode is keeping the peace. He’s a loyal, loving man consistently forced by his circumstances to make bad choices. Their relationship is fierce but also tender and wonderfully defiant, because it instantly brings with it the threat of death. The plot however doesn’t give us enough insight into the bond – why and how these two fell in love. The only mode we see the couple in is running, which becomes limiting. The screenplay also bungs in a same-sex relationship which, in this environment, is as dangerous as a Hindu-Muslim one.

Also read: Vikrant Massey And Sanya Malhotra On Shah Rukh Khan, The Producer

This track doesn’t have any layering to it. These characters are bunged in to keep the wheels of the plot churning. In the second half, the chase and violence take over, also leading to questions of plausibility. Some of the things Ahmed tries to do seem insistently foolhardy. There are also backstories – of Dagar and a local cop – that are under-cooked.

Love Hostel has a stellar team – the cinematography is by Vivek Shah who also shot Gurgaon, the editing by Nitin Baid and Shan Mohammed and the original score by Clinton Cerejo. These artists contribute immensely to creating the harrowing experience the film delivers. What’s missing is enough emotional depth.

What stays with you are the details – like a getaway car which Ahmed uses. It’s a wedding vehicle with flowers taped on it and the Dulha’s joda lying at the back. Ahmed is of course a newlywed himself but there is no celebration of his union. His relationship has violated the natural order and must be punished. In this small moment, the tragedy of a world in which love leads to death becomes horribly real.

You can watch Love Hostel on ZEE5.

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