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Love Hostel movie review: Vikrant Massey, Sanya Malhotra shine in brutal, brilliant film

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Love Hostel movie review: As compared to Shanker Raman’s ‘Gurgaon’, ‘Love Hostel’ has more immediacy in its execution, which makes its nonstop violence more impactful.

Love Hostel movie reviewLove Hostel movie review: Like Raman’s previous work, this is also an intensely political film, and this time it is much more overt.

Shanker Raman’s ‘Gurgaon’ (2017) was not just a physical brick-and-mortar space, but also a dark, dystopian state of mind, in which ruthless patriarchs don’t bother hiding their iron fists in velvet gloves, tracts of ancestral land become valuable barter, men rule, and women do as they are told. In ‘Love Hostel’, the director picks up from where he left off, as he turns his attention to the interiors of Haryana, where runaway couples do not just earn the wrath of their families, but also the brutal attention of mercenaries hot on their trail. A flowery garland around the neck is exchanged for a lethal rope, leaving a circle of faces around the dangling bodies, some stunned with grief, some alight with unholy glee: the khap’s word is law, and those who cross it do it at their own peril.

Like Raman’s previous work, this is also an intensely political film, and this time it is much more overt. ‘Vardi utaar ke sarkaar badalne ka intezaar karoon kya (shall I take off my uniform and wait for the government to change?),’ asks a character whose job it is to uphold the rule of law. It is a question to which he expects no answer, a trenchant commentary on the state of the nation, where the othering of minorities has been galloping rapidly apace. The villains of this piece are not just the old guard who refuse to let go, but also those who rule only to divide.

A hurried court ceremony sets Jyoti Dilawar (Sanya Malhotra) and Ashu Shokeen (Vikrant Massey) on a treadmill from which neither is able to step off. The former has a formidable foe in her hookah-smoking ‘daadi’, the latter has everything stacked against him: his religious identity, his ‘job’ as a ‘delivery boy’ of ‘contraband’ flesh, and being stuck between a rock and a very hard place. The safe house the newlyweds fetch up at, feels more like a holding pen where helpless animals are left before being sent to slaughter, and everywhere they go from there, becomes more and more dangerous.

This is no country for lovers, and the man responsible for that is the menacing Viraj Singh Dagar (Bobby Deol), who reminds you of Javier Bardem’s bounty hunter in ‘No Country For Old Men’. Dagar has a deep scar running down his face, and an implacable hatred for those who have broken the rules. ‘Usne to Diwali ki jagah Eid chun li’ (she has chosen Eid instead of Diwali), is not merely a description of someone exercising a choice. It is a death sentence. The love birds can run. But can they hide?

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As compared to ‘Gurgaon’, ‘Love Hostel’ has more immediacy in its execution, which makes its nonstop violence more impactful, at least to begin with. But as the body count piles up, and the spray of blood rises higher, you also end up being numb. That Dagar also has a scar on his soul is left too late as a reveal: maybe we needed to have known what drives him to his bloody deeds a little earlier on. Also, even if Deol has worn his character closely, the gaps between his starry persona, given to us in several close-ups, and his Dagar aren’t closed completely.

Which is not something you can accuse the other two stars of. Both Vikrant Massey and Sanya Malhotra are very good. Massey is not a surprise because he has shown how much he can dissolve in his characters; but Malhotra, who has been variable, is. Her Jyoti is spot on: she gets right into her part, and stays with it, right till the end.

The others in this ensemble feel organically grown, and they make this movie. Right on top of is Raj Arjun as Sushil Rathi, the weather-beaten cop who has seen too much. Akshay Oberoi, who broke out so beautifully in ‘Gurgaon’, has a guest appearance here. And Aditi Vasudev as Nidhi Dahiya, the supportive teacher, is excellent, too. As are the others in this tightly-controlled world, where the sharp religious polarisation of the past several years has seeped into the soil: they use Muslim butchers as bait-and-switch to trap people, with the local police being complicit in targetting the minorities and jailing them for no good reason. It’s not just rebellious heterosexuals who are the bad apples, homosexuals are beyond the pale, too — there’s a tender moment between two young men which breaks your heart.

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As always, Raman pulls no punches. And that’s both the major strength and a minor weakness of the film. You wish he had reigned it in somewhere: this is a brilliant, brutal excavation of a world which inexorably, relentlessly closes in on his characters, and us. I wanted to be able to catch a breath. After a point, ‘Love Hostel’ becomes airless. I sat with my heart in my mouth, taking in great gulps of air when the end credits began to roll, and emerged on the other side, battered and enraged. Is there really no way out? No easy answers in film, and in real life.

Love Hostel movie cast: Vikrant Massey, Sanya Malhotra, Bobby Deol, Raj Arjun
Love Hostel movie director: Shanker Raman
Love Hostel movie rating: 3.5 stars

First published on: 25-02-2022 at 10:40:05 am
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