'Unfreedom': Film Review

Courtesy of Dark Frames
This well-intentioned effort is undercut by its exploitative approach

Raj Amit Kumar's directoral debut crosscuts between two stories, one set in New York and the other in New Delhi, depicting the violent results of religious and sexual intolerance.

Raj Amit Kumar's directorial debut decrying religious intolerance and the subjugation of women would be far more convincing if it didn't resort to exploitation itself. Cross-cutting between two unrelated stories: one, set in New Delhi, depicting the fateful consequences when a woman escapes from an attempt at an arranged marriage; the other, set in New York, concerning the kidnapping and torture of a Muslim intellectual by a terrorist extremist, the bluntly titled Unfreedom lacks the necessary cinematic finesse to get its points across in a meaningful way. The film, banned in India (a real selling point, judging by its publicity), is receiving a limited theatrical release.

In the India-set story, Leela (Preeti Gupta), a lesbian, once again rejects the efforts of her high-ranking police official father to marry her off to a suitable man. So she kidnaps at gunpoint her former lover Sakhi (Bhavani Lee), a free-spirited, bisexual artist who likes to paint in the nude. Although some momentary bliss ensues, depicted in a graphic sequence of the two curvaceous women making love, the defiant act inevitably results in violent retribution.

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In New York, prominent liberal scholar Fareed (Victor Banerjee, best known on these shores for A Passage to India), is preparing to deliver a major speech criticizing Muslim extremism. But before he can do so, he and a young associate are nabbed by aspiring terrorist Hussain (Bhanu Uday) who proceeds to torture them in various ways including crucifixion. As with the sex scene, the gory violence is depicted in highly explicit fashion.

That wouldn't be so much of a problem if the characters were given greater dimension, but despite such attempts as a series of flashbacks purporting to illustrate how Hussain came to embrace violence, the screenplay, co-written by the director and Damon J. Taylor, seems mostly interested in shock value. The often confusing, jumbled narrative seems merely an excuse for titillation of both the sexual and sadistic varieties.

Struggling with their ill-defined roles, the performers are unable to elevate the schematic material. Although its message is admirable, Unfreedom is ultimately undone by its blunt obviousness.

Production: 69 Productions, Dark Frames, Maruti Media, One Friday Films
Cast: Victor Banerjee, Adil Hussain, Bhanu Uday, Preeti Gupta, Bhavani Lee, Seemi Rhamani, Andrew Platner
Director: Raj Amit Kumar
Screenwriters: Raj Amit Kumar, Damon J. Taylor
Producers: Deepa Bajaj, Raj Amit Kumar
Executive producers: Gerard Weisbecker, Miriam Weisbecker
Director of photography: Hari Nair
Editor: Atanu Mukherjee
Costume designers: Smriti Chauhan, Viji Joy, Vaisali Menon
Composers: Jesse Kotansky, Wayne Sharpe

Not rated, 102 min.