Love Hostel has all the beats of the average crime thriller – vivid tableaux of violence, that sudden shot to the skull when you’re least expecting it, moments of dread-making suspense. It’s often easy to forget the source of the blood-letting: the forbidden love between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman.
Jyoti (Sanya Malhotra), the granddaughter of a Haryanvi politician, has eloped with Ahmed (Vikrant Massey). Jyoti is smart and assertive, but not smart enough to travel to the ends of the earth rather than hang around waiting for retribution. It comes in the form of Dagar (Bobby Deol), a specialist in ensuring that young people stay within socially prescribed limits.
Dagar moves about like a heartland version of Anton Chigurh from the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. Dagar also has a penchant for photographing his targets before he kills them, like Harlen Maguire from The Road to Perdition. Equal parts chilling assassin and comic-book bogeyman, Dagar exemplifies the movie’s uneven handling of its subject matter.
The Zee5 release has been written and directed by Shanker Raman (with additional writing credits by Mehek Jamal and Yogi Singha). As Jyoti and Ahmed flee for their lives with Dagar in hot pursuit, Love Hostel ratchets up the tension and lays out the jump scares.
These devices are increasingly used by modern-day scarefests to explore the horrors of deep-seated injustice. Whether Love Hostel works as an expose of the culture of honour killing is always up for debate.
Access to weapons separates Jyoti and Ahmed from their screen predecessors and their counterparts in the real world. Guns are freely available in this corner of North India, as is a never-ending supply of bullets.
Some of the far-fetched plot turns take us away from the runaway couple and into the zone of the pulpy thriller where corpses pile up and murderers and potential victims move about undetected. More than the contrived situations, it’s the unanticipated moments that truly stand out.
A young girl witnesses a carnage in frank appreciation. A ruthless villain reveals a tender spot.
The atmospheric cinematography is by Vivek Shah, who brought similar visual panache to Shanker Raman’s directorial debut Gurgaon. Close-ups of the leads heighten the prevailing mood of uncanniness. The few decent souls include a police officer (Raj Arjun) and a teacher (Aditi Vasudev) who helps Jyoti and Ahmed.
As Love Hostel keeps finding new ways to deliver visceral shocks, the honour bit of the honour killing makes way for pure killing. The Hindu-Muslim romance comes with a hefty price tag. It might not be worth the trouble, the film suggests.