KHUDA HAAFIZ (2020)

Shivaleeka Oberoi and Vidyut Jammwal in a still from Khuda Haafiz
  • Release Date: 14/08/2020
  • Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Shivaleeka Oberoi, Annu Kapoor, Aahana Kumra, Shiv Panditt
  • Director: Faruk Kabir

Sameer (Vidyut Jammwal), a middle-class software engineer falls head-over-heels in love with Nargis (Shivaleeka Oberoi) on his introductory meeting where their families ponder over a possible arranged marriage in the future. Sameer woos Nargis over the next few months before he finally proposes, she accepts and they get married. Their life looks perfect and they are poised for a romantic and rollicking future together. Sadly it is the time when the global recession strikes India hard and the couple loses their livelihoods in quick succession. Without a job for 3 months, they start looking for lucrative jobs in the Arab world and as luck would have it, Nargis lands a job in the fictional country of Noman with Sameer getting an assurance of another job in 5-10 days in the same country.

Nargis decides to start for Noman alone with her husband following pursuit as soon as he gets his job. Within days Nargis calls back her husband from an unknown number under extreme duress and informs him that she is in danger and he should come to save her. The phone disconnects halfway through the discussion and is rendered unreachable thereafter. Helpless and clueless, Sameer arrives in a country that he doesn’t understand, and sets out to find his love. The only help that he has is in the form of a taxi driver, Usman Ali Hamid Murad (Annu Kapoor) who is pained by his predicament and wants to help him track down his wife.

Khuda Haafiz is inspired by stories of the slave trade and forced prostitution in Oman wherein as many as 30 Punjabi women were sold off by vicious agents pretending to be job consultants as recently as June -2018 (reported in Hindustan Times). The film also draws some inspiration from films like Taken mostly in the action sequences and how the hero goes about finding his love and rescues her. The film starts off extremely strong. The romance between Sameer and Nargis is set up beautifully and the fact that both the actors have the kind of charisma that forms an instant connection with the audiences helps establish a cute little romance that we want to see blossom. This is an essential element as it adds to the tension and intrigue of the film when Nargis is kidnapped. We want her rescued unharmed and reunited with her husband as we are so enamored by her character’s simplicity and sweetness.

I have not seen Vidyut Jammwal act this well since his debut in Force. The scene where he realizes that his wife has been kidnapped by slave traders, his expression every time he visits a brothel and browses through their merchandise hoping to find his wife but is also horrified to think of what must be happening to her in there and his outburst on the antagonist on at least two occasions are all essayed so authoritatively by Jammwal that you are bound to take his character seriously. I could feel his fear, disgust, and anger and at the same time also sense his helplessness at not being able to rescue his wife sooner. This might be a very commercial film but that doesn’t stop Vidyut from putting in his best foot forward in terms of the acting.

Annu Kapoor in a still from Khuda Haafiz

Annu Kapoor is a terrific actor and he is in his element here. He supports Vidyut’s character perfectly and strikes a wonderful camaraderie with him that is not only likable but is also a key element to forwarding the plot. Some of his dialogues are utterly heartwarming and they turn out even better because of how convincingly Kapoor delivers them. Shivaleeka Oberoi looks and feels like a woman who could incite the kind of passion in a man that would make him tear apart a country for her. She is not only sweet and extremely likable in her avatar but is also natural and believable. Her mannerisms and wide-eyed childlike innocence around Vidyut’s Sameer adds a whole layer of likeability to her character and it is because of her essay that the character of Nargis is rendered so loveable and heartbreaking. Shivaleeka Oberoi will be a heroine to look out for in the future. She has both the looks and the acting prowess to make it big in Bollywood.

I was amazed at how restrained Vidyut Jammwal was in the action sequences. There are just two major action sequences and only one of them involves Vidyut pitted against many men. He maintains unbelievable restraint in this sequence and kills the men in the most generic manner possible. He often mis-steps, mis-handles, and is himself injured in the process. The sequence ends with him escaping with his life hanging by the little finger. This is something that we haven’t been dished out in most Vidyut Jammwal films where generally the antagonists are always in the receiving end. The sheer novelty of what was happening here made it entertaining to watch. It also added to the overall (somewhat) realistic feel of the film and helped its cause to a great extent. The final hand to hand fight that he has with the antagonist will reiterate my point.

The film seemed to be going really well up till the halfway mark and then it takes a stunning u-turn and turns into something that I didn’t believe it could. It turns boring, clichéd, unrealistic and the performance quotient is brought down dramatically by two bewilderingly bad performances from Aahana Kumra and Shiv Panditt. These two actors are given fairly important characters to play and they take it upon themselves to destroy these characters and in the process the overall impact of the film. I hated their accent which turned on and off from scene to scene. They just didn’t have the feel for the characters that they were playing. They felt bored and gave a feeling of literally sleepwalking through their performances which stuck out even more in the presence of Vidyut Jammwal and Annu Kumar who had a sense of urgency in their respective renditions.

Shiv Panditt and Aahana Kumra in a still from Khuda Haafiz

By this point, the writers also seem to have run out of ideas and they didn’t even try to rectify the sagging interest, dipping speed and diminishing realism of the film. Things start getting so boring and over-the-top that you practically stop caring for what happens to the characters for whom your heart was beating with tension up till that point of time. There is a sequence in the desert where we see Shiv Panditt’s character and a whole lot of other criminals and cops offer “Namaz” leaving Vidyut all alone, unshackled, and in the proximity of a gun. We see the sequence unfold in two different directions in our minds but the path that it takes makes you pull your hair out of frustration. The way that Sameer finally rescues Nargis also leaves a lot to be desired. You are not even satisfied with the final payback that Sameer is shown delivering to the antagonists and it strangely felt comical.

Khuda Haafiz had a lot of things going in its favor. The film had an ever-engaging premise, solid action, and inspiring performances from Vidyut, Shivaleeka, and Annu Kapoor. However, all that cannot save it from sinking in the end because of its maker’s lackluster approach to the writing and execution in the second half. All they needed was a little more thought behind the idea, execution, and two better actors to replace Aahana Kumra and Shiv Panditt. Having said that, the film still makes quite an impact up till the interval and it will be a treat for most Vidyut Jammwal fans. Even though it is a step in the right direction for Bollywood action films, it is far from being inspiring.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)  

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