A key character in Hansal Mehta’s Faraaz accuses another of being a “Twitter debater”. The film, with all its earnestness and attempt to walk a tightrope between ideological differences, unfortunately remains at the level of a Twitter debate.

Mehta shoots with the detachment of a TV news cameraman – perhaps because the film is based on a true incident – and doesn’t embellish the drama and tragedy that unfolds over a relatively compact 112-minute runtime.

In 2016, a swanky cafe in Dhaka called Holey Artisan was attacked by five terrorists. They gunned down all foreigners and non-Muslims over an all-night bloodbath.

In the film, the contrast between two young men on opposite sides of an ideological divide is established right away. Faraaz (Zahaan Kapoor) belongs to a wealthy family and has a world of choices before him. Nibras (Aditya Rawal), who used to be Faraaz’s football mate, has turned into a sadistic, hate-filled fanatic.

The cafe attack has already inspired a film by Bangladeshi director Mostofa Sarwar Farooki in 2019. Shonibar Bikel, shot mostly in one take, stars Indian actor Parambrata Chatterjee as the leader of the terrorists. The film, which made a plea for religious tolerance, did the rounds of festivals and was praised by critics, but was banned in Bangladesh. (It has since been passed by Bangaldesh’s censors but hasn’t been released in the country yet.)

Faraaz too faced its share of troubles – an attempt by parents of some of the victims to block its release. The film can be seen as the third of Mehta’s trilogy after Shahid (2012) and Omerta (2017).

Faraaz (2022).

Faraaz leaves one with mixed feelings, mainly because there has been a glut of films about Muslim youth being indoctrinated into terrorism. After a few scenes in Faraaz’s lavish home, and the five young men being prepared for the mission by their handler, the film plunges right into the carnage at the cafe.

Faraaz had come to there with two female friends, whom he doesn’t want to abandon. Faraaz’s mother (Juhi Babbar Soni) tries to pull strings to have her son rescued.

For a large chunk of the film, the hostages are seen cowering as the terrorists swagger about, revelling in the power of the weapons they carry. Mehta and his writers (Ritesh Shah, Kashyap Kapoor, Raghav Kakkar) do not give the killers back stories, possibly to avoid humanising them, but that also makes them look like pre-programmed zombies.

Nibras behaves like a moody psychopath who speaks sweetly to children, gets a singer to strum his guitar to relieve the tension, orders the chef to cook a meal but also kills without compunction. (Surprisingly, people feel hungry and thirsty, but nobody needs to go to the bathroom.)

Since the action remains mainly in the cafe, that too with the lights off, an atmosphere of tension is maintained to an extent, even more because the cops are portrayed as totally incompetent. No commandos seem to be keeping an eye on the lake-side property.

Much too late into the film, Faraaz has a cliched good Muslim-bad Muslim discussion with Nibras. The film is named for Faraaz, but Zahaan Kapoor is given very little to do. Aditya Rawal gets more screen time and more shades to project, which he does well, giving the despicable Nibras the misguided nobility of a man who believes he is fighting for a just cause. There is not a strong enough statement to counter his conviction.

There are periodic, loose cannon attacks all over the world – random shootings, bombings, driving cars into crowds – so there is undoubtedly a need to understand why educated Muslims from wealthy families are so easily radicalised. The scariest bit of Faraaz is the realisation that the terrorist handler is an ordinary-looking call centre employee – the typical “enemy among us” trope that ends up demonising all Muslims.

The film does say this, but not too vehemently. Since it is based on a real event, Hansal Mehta can claim objectivity. At the very least, the film will generate a Twitter debate, which is probably better than not addressing the problem at all.