By Pankaj Sachdeva

Shanker Raman’s Love Hostel opens with a just-married young couple recording a video pleading for acceptance from their family members. It is reminiscent of Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha, a seminal film that turned Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge into a dystopian nightmare. A violent assassin Dagar (Bobby Deol), dealing with his issues, is soon sent to finish off the couple. Love Hostel tells the story of these lovers in a country where everything is political. Another couple, Jyoti Dilawar (Sanya Malhotra) and Ashu Shokeen (Vikrant Massey), belonging to different religions, elope to start a life together. The girl belongs to a powerful political family, which, as can be guessed, is against this match as she chose Eid over Diwali. The lovers then ask the state for protection. But Dagar is again sent to eliminate them, and the cycle repeats. Raman, who earlier made Gurgaon, again tells a story of conservative families resorting to violence to uphold their regressive outlook of the world.
The film takes its title Love Hostel from the safehouses the government has built to shelter lovers from their families. Jyoti and Ashu are sent to one such hostel. Little did they know that the hostel was made by Jyoti’s grandmother Kamala Dilawar (Swaroopa Ghosh), not as a goodwill gesture but as a tool for reaping political benefits. On reaching the hostel, Jyoti calls it Taj Mahal. Ashu, though, rightly feels it is a bhoot bangla. It is officially called a hostel, but it is essentially a pinjra—a cage—where lovers remain trapped for years in the rigmarole of court hearings. Residents’ cell phones are confiscated at check-in, removing all contact with the modern world. The graffiti on the hostel’s walls, as seen on old historical monuments, is a cry for help from lovers who only ask to let them love on their terms.
In a land where the rules of khaps have been enforced for over six hundred years, modern jurisprudence rules have little bearing. It is the writ of Kamala Dilawar, the influential politician and family matriarch, that rules over the Dilawar family. She controls everything leaving her sons to feel emasculated. Her role reminded me of Amma Ji (Meghna Malik) from the show Na Aana Is Des Laado. It takes a bit of time to get used to seeing Swaroopa Ghosh play Kamala as it kept reminding me of her performance as the genteel Pishi in Vicky Donor. Ashu is also dealing with his familial problems. His father has been sent to jail on charges of being a terrorist. His mother has Alzheimer’s disease. His family has a meat shop. When Ashu talks about ‘doing a delivery,’ I initially thought it was related to drugs. But he was tasked with delivering meat, most likely beef, in a state that has banned the sale of beef. Unlike many other films, where politics seems to be forced and inorganic, the politics of Love Hostel is sharp and merges with its story without any artifice. The political element blends in and is depicted with authenticity. Love jehad, communalism, and identity politics are all present in the film.


The medium for the powerful families to eliminate rebellious lovers is a man called Dagar. He is a menacing figure who has burn-inflicted scars over him. He is a beast who hunts and kills not just the bhagode couples who indulged in inter-religious marriages but also all other people who assisted these couples. When Dagar is injured, he does not go into a hospital for humans; instead, he goes to a veterinary hospital. He also has this thing like Bob Biswas, where he takes selfies of people before killing them. He gradually develops a liking for a friendly canine and takes it with him on his travails, like Hathoda Tyagi (Abhishek Banerjee) from Paatal Lok developed a fondness for dogs. Toward the end, the dog runs out of the car. Dagar crosses the road to pet him. A truck zooms by, killing Dagar instantly. Early in the film, a girl, whom he killed, curses him that someday he will fall in love and then he will realize how it feels. “Tera bhi dil aave kisi pe,” she tells him. Her prophecy came true. It is love that kills Dagar.

In terms of story, Love Hostel does have not anything novel. However, I liked the tiny details in the film. For instance, the truck that kills Dagar has Has Mat Pagli Pyaar Ho Jayega written on it. The song that plays on the radio during the said scene is Ya Allah Ya Allah Dil Le Gayi from Ujala. “Koi rangeela sapnon me aake, ek najar se apna bana ke. Pyar ka jadu hampe chala ke. Ya allah, ya allah, dil le gaya.” Both these artifacts remind us of the girl’s curse of Dagar falling in love. Early in the film, Jyoti and Ashu elope and meet in a secluded place. In the first scene, the camera pans to Jyoti’s feet, which are shown in the air when she is held up in the arms by Ashu. Toward the end, the same shot is repeated but in a different and chilling context. The camera pans to her feet, where she is again being held up in the air when she is tied to the rope while Dagar watches her. Raman has also been a cinematographer in his career. It is discernible that the director has a penchant for cinematography. The film is exquisitely shot by cinematographer Vivek Shah. Dead bodies looks absolutely symmetrical without any dirt or disorder. The gunshot wound is perfectly circular. Blood adds to the perverse beauty of the dead bodies. In another scene, a shot of half-dried flowers over a car adds a layer of sadness to the story.


In Love Hostel, the children are used as a motif where they are often present in violent situations but unafraid of the bloodbath in front of them. When Dagar goes to kill the lawyer who helped Jyoti get married, an irritated kid playing video games and wearing headphones opens the door. The kid’s entire family is killed, and he is simply busy playing. Later, during the shootout at the hotel where Ashu delivers meat, a young girl, also wearing headphones, sits on the aisles. After the gun fights, she tells Ashu that he has blood on him. Later, in a similar scene, a young kid tells Dagar that he has blood on him when Dagar saunters into a wedding and starts indiscriminately shooting at people. And, the terrifying character in the film is another young kid—Rakesh (Yudhvir Ahlawat), Jyoti’s brother. Think of Sandhya’s brother from Dum Laga Ke Haisha, who was shown for comic effect. But add violence and rage and multiply by hundred times to get Rakesh. He is the one who violently hits Jyoti with a stick when he finds out about her affair with Ashu. He is the one who reveals Ashu’s Muslim identity to her family. He is the one who kills Ashu in the end. He had this rage that he was willing to kill his father for standing up to his grandmother. It is a reminder of how children are not always beacons of innocence, and it is they who ultimately grow up to become perpetrators of violence. In a telling moment, when police inspector Sushil Tripathi (Raj Arun) comes looking for Dagar at Kamala Dilawar’s place, she tells him any of the kids playing around her could be Dagar, so which Dagar is he looking for?


Love Hostel is produced by Red Chillies Entertainment, a company owned by Shah Rukh Khan. That may be why the film added two references from the films of Shah Rukh Khan. On their first night at the love hostel, Jyoti puts up a partition using a saree to get some privacy with Ashu. At this point, Aankhon Mein Teri from Om Shanti Om starts playing in the background. Later, Ashu smuggles meat to a hotel, but he also plays the role of a police informer. At the hotel, his truth is busted leading to a a shootout. All this while, the television in the room plays Laila Main Laila from Raees. There was a shootout going on during the song in Raees as well.

Love Hostel is also a film that depicts the manifestation of male depression in different forms. The men in the film are grieving and are advised to take help. Two characters—Sushil Tripathi and Dagar—go through similar trauma. Both these men lost their brothers. Sushil’s younger brother performed self-immolation after he married another girl from a different religion. Maybe it is why he is kind to Ashu, as he sees his brother in him. Dagar’s elder brother also took his own life after his daughter eloped with a man from another religion. Both Sushil and Dagar suffer from depression but refuse to accept help. Sushil has nightmares even today, prompting his wife to urge him to seek therapy and let it out. “Dil ki baat dabakar rakhna jhooth hi hai,” she tells himHe is taking (sleeping) pills, but he dismisses the suggestion. On the other hand, Dagar takes to violence to deal with his trauma. He is called a bimar and is told by people that he needs to get treated. He is falsely living under the belief that he is a social reformer.


Performances in the film uplift it. Bobby Deol, as Dagar, is in a completely different avatar. Sanya Malhotra is feisty and spunky as Jyoti. Vikrant Massey brings a vulnerability to his character. Ashu is often timid in situations as he has seen more difficulties in life than Jyoti. He is also shown crying at one point. I was also thinking about another scene where he feels jealous of Jyoti dancing with another boy, even though he is gay. It makes Ashu realize that he cannot see Jyoti with another man. Raj Arun as Sushil Tripathi is excellent. Aditi Vasudev is also great as Nidhi Dahiya, who helps the two lovers. I still remember Aditi playing Mallika in Talaash. One thing I struggled with in the film was the dialogue of some characters. I could not understand some words. Some were said too quietly, which made me miss a few things. The film also does not explain everything, so I had to read up a bit to understand more.
Within the violence and blood, the film adds some beautiful dialogue. Early in the film, after getting married, Jyoti tells Ashu, “Ab paa liya tujhe, baaki sab bemaani.” Jyoti has got everything she wished for, so she does not wish anything else. Toward the end, a crying Ashu tells her, “Teri mehek me rehna hai.” He wants to live in her fragrance. And, the most memorable scene is when Jyoti and Ashu are hiding in an old factory, and a red car enters. They get suspicious that there are people in the car who are sent to kill them. Jyoti carries her gun to the car to find out more. But she sees that there are no enemies. The car has two lovers, both men, who are making out. She seems slightly disgusted, but then it hits her; the two men are lovers, like herself and Ashu. They are also running away from society. Lovers belonging to the same gender are not accepted by society, like lovers belonging to different religions face opposition. At this precise moment when she realizes this, she sees and hears a peacock chirping nearby. It is a tender moment reminding us of the beauty while dealing with the barbarity of a cruel world.

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