Khuda Haafiz: Chapter II is Oblivious of Its Own Mediocrity

It’s 2022 and Bollywood is still writing rape-and-revenge plots where the suffering of women exists only to trigger righteous male rage
Khuda Haafiz: Chapter II is Oblivious of Its Own Mediocrity

Director: Faruk Kabir
Writer: Faruk Kabir
Cast: Vidyut Jamawal, Sheevalika Oberoi, Sheeba Chaddha, Rajesh Tailang, Dibyendu Bhattacharya

It's too lazy to crack a trial-by-fire pun for a film whose title features the term "agni pariksha". So I won't do it. It's still not lazier than making yet another Hindi movie that sells the severity of rape and violence in the currency of alpha-male heroism. They tell us that the system is too corrupt to earn justice for survivors and victims. They tell us that sexual assault is the norm in states like Uttar Pradesh. Both may be true. But it's the intent that reveals the gaze. It's important to remember that films like Khuda Haafiz: Chapter II – Agni Pariksha only tell us these things – and then show us these things in crude, tasteless detail – to glorify the lofty vigilantism of a common (muscular) man. The suffering of women exists solely as a trigger for righteous male rage. It's absurd that I have to spell this out in 2022. But with every passing decade, the Bollywood rape-and-revenge template has grown bigger and stupider. The only compliment I can offer is that one can't be dismissive of this film – it's just about competent enough to be offensive. 

Khuda Haafiz (2020) was about a man, Sameer (Vidyut Jammwal), who single-handedly saves his wife, Nargis (Shivaleeka Oberoi), from the clutches of Arab flesh traders in a fictional country called Noman. Or No-man, given that Sameer is an everyman feminist who also happens to be a male saviour. (Or No-man, which was my answer to anyone who asked if Khuda Haafiz was worth watching). The sequel opens in 2011, a few years after irony and villains died in the first film. The couple is back in Lucknow, but all is not well. Being a rape survivor has taken its toll on Nargis. She is in deep depression, drawing parallels to Sita's trauma after Ram wins all the plaudits for rescuing her from Lanka. She accidentally shatters a plate in her therapist's office so that the kindly therapist can invoke the Japanese art of kintsugi. Sameer is sad to see her sad, so he spends evenings feeding strangers at a mosque. 

Now here begins the film's self-defeating relationship with the female gender. Like a parent who brings home a puppy to cheer up a glum child, Sameer brings home a newly orphaned little girl – a friend's niece – in the hope that Nargis' dormant maternal love might rescue their marriage. Mind you, he doesn't bother to check with Nargis, or the little girl Nandini, before doing this. Worse, he assures his wife that "if it doesn't work," he will send the girl back in a week, as if she's a toy on some trial period. Naturally, Nargis falls in love with the little girl. But this change of heart is brought about by an errant Alsatian, who bites them both and brings out the protective mother in her. I don't trust movies that demonise dogs. They could have gone with a giant rat. Or a snake. A family song follows – Nargis is magically cured, they officially adopt Nandini, everything is awesome – and culminates in a shot of the couple making love. This is probably the first film ever in which having a child leads to sex, rather than the other way around.

There's more. When Nandini is kidnapped from school, Sameer launches his own search mission across the city. He does all of this, again, without telling his wife. Soon, even the film forgets about the wife; she vows to not return until justice is served. A nothing-to-lose Sameer sets about hunting down the perpetrators in a second half full of blood, gore and torn limbs. Most movies feature training montages to turn an average man into a ruthless killing machine. This one features a prison sentence. Sameer goes berserk during a gang war in jail, and just like that, he's ready. From a butcher's den in Lucknow to a pyramid-soaked landscape in Egypt, Sameer spares nothing and nobody. I'm not sure how he secured a visa after serving time, but such petty contrivances do not stand in the way of a violent man out to avenge violence against women. If you think I've described too much plot already, bear in mind that the plot itself is a review. 

I thought it was almost subversive of the first film to not let Vidyut Jammwal – an incurable action hero – land his first punch for more than an hour. This film does the same, which means that the "restraint" is a franchise formula and has nothing to do with the identity of the story. Like some of his contemporaries, the effort that Jammwal puts into acting normal far outweighs the effort he puts into normalizing action. Subtle feelings like disappointment, anticipation, relief and affection are conveyed through all sorts of strange facial acrobatics; he's visibly at home when the body moves faster than the mind. Perhaps this explains why the first half just looks more exhausting than the second. Shivaleeka Oberoi is reminiscent of Anushka Sharma in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, but her Nargis is reduced to a brooding footnote in a film that thinks it's mankind's gift to women. The formidable Sheeba Chaddha finally appears as an all-out villain – a sinister Godmother-like figure – but her character is as disposable as Sameer's sanity. Casting Rajesh Tailang as a morally sound reporter based on Ravish Kumar is smart, but his character is as disposable as the film itself. A film that doubles up as a 'trial by fire' for the brave people who watch it. There, I made it till the very last line. But it had to be done. Restraint is overrated.

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