By Divya Unny Feb. 28, 2022
Love Hostel is violent, vicious and clutches at your throat throughout a run-time shouldered by terrific performances by Vikrant Massey, Sanya Malhotra and chief among them, a chilling turn by Bobby Deol.
Love Hostel starts with a promise. A promise that a young girl makes to her father on a video message right after getting married to her lover. “Meet him once and you’ll fall in love with him too,” she says innocently. Within seconds both she and her husband are hanging from the barks of a tree. They’re killed by a cold-blooded man named Dagar who isn’t just remorseless but takes great pride in slaying every couple that marries out of caste in or around his state. The minute it begins, the film slaps you with India’s tragic history of honour killings.
Love Hostel is an edgy, spine-chilling, brutally violent chase thriller where love often takes a backseat.
The opening sequence is carefully designed for you to wake up to the dark fate of many young adults in this country who have little control over their own lives. Director Shanker Raman whose debut feature Gurgaon left us shuddering with the murky world of crimes against women within their own families, isn’t on a back foot in this one either. The pure, pristine, sometimes blind love between the film’s lead couple Jyoti and Ashu is as infectious as the fear that lurks around them at every turn. She is the Jat-Hindu granddaughter of a popular politico, and he is the Muslim son of an alleged terrorist. It’s a deadly combination to say the least.
The opening sequence is designed for you to wake up to the dark fate of many young adults who have little control over their own lives.
They run away, get married and find refuge in a shifty police-handled safe-house that the precarious station cop calls ‘Love Hostel’. This is a court sanctioned hiding place for young married couples who feel threatened by their own families, and Jyoti and Ashu are its latest victims. Irony strikes when we realise that Love Hostel is indirectly run by Jyoti’s MLA grandmother (Swaroopa Ghosh) who would rather have her child killed than allow her to live the life she desires. Dagar, played by a menacing Bobby Deol is now after Ashu and Jyoti who are on the run, and here begins an edgy, spine-chilling, brutally violent chase thriller where love often takes a backseat. Raman with cinematographer Vivek Shah creates a steely, brutal world where human beings are not just for or against love, but are paying their own price for it.
The locations and atmospherics are as real as the shock and horror the film reeks with.
The film lurks within the dimly lit lanes of Haryana where the air is smothered with violence and fear. Children aren’t all that taken aback by the sight of blood, and the land’s lawlessness has almost become a way of life. There are a few who live a normal life here, but the minute they root for love, it’s over for them. Bobby Deol as the outlandish hitman Dagar who’s on a human killing spree, finds himself his most lethal role to date. He’s the face of fear and represents everything wrong with a system that brutalizes human beings for love. He carries a scar on his face, and his eyes are absolutely empty of emotion, except when he takes down his victims. He’s the crux of this screenplay that rubs a gruesome reality in our faces at every given point.
Performances are superlative with every character hitting their mark well.
The locations and atmospherics are as real as the shock and horror the film reeks with. There’s no doubt in the technical brilliance of Love Hostel that highlights Raman’s vision and value as a storyteller, whose obsession with noir is unquestionable. We know that he’s going for utter realism, and doesn’t believe in filtering the ruthlessness of life around us. Though, after 30 minutes of killing and gunshots, you become indifferent to the violence and kind of know what to expect. The shock value in the gunshots wears away sooner, as the plot steers in a single direction. It propagates a judgement free society for all kinds of lovers so they can be freed from the clutches of gender, religion and caste. But the cynicism and tragedy in the writing takes over every glimmer of hope you have for the characters. This is a story of revenge with zero redemption and that can leave Love Hostel feeling visceral but ultimately ineffective.
Love Hostel poses some important questions and reveals some intimidating facts about life, love and familial politics in India.
Performances are superlative with every character hitting their mark well. Sanya Malhotra and Vikrant Massey are equally sincere in their attempt to express love and hold up their own dignity within their relationship. Raj Arjun is brilliant as the cop looking to avenge the death of his own son. Aditi Vasudev finally gets a role worth her while and is fantastic as the couples’ mentor figure who is silently seething in pain. But the film belongs to Bobby Deol, and after more than 20 years of being an actor, this performance will finally bring him roles with more substance. His embodiment of a maniacal, yet absurdly restrained killer earns the hate and revulsion the character deserves. Love Hostel poses some important questions and reveals some intimidating facts about life, love and familial politics in India. It’s a bold, violent film that could have also done with a streak of hope and sunshine.
Divya is a Mumbai-based journalist-turned-actor and now director. Some say it's too many hats for that one small head, while she insists there be more.