Unfreedom is another tiresome, melodramatic, and ultimately contemptuous entry in a long line of “network narratives,” as scholar David Bordwell calls them, in which multiple storylines are conveyed concurrently, often intersecting in some capacity during the denouement. These films, like Traffic and Crash, operate under the logic of a globalized milieu, in which crosscutting between various times and spaces is as natural as clicking a hyperlink. Director Raj Amit Kumar relegates the interlocking narratives to just two strands, one unfolding in New York City, the other in New Delhi. Stateside, Husain (Bhanu Uday), a Muslin extremist, hunts Fareed (Victor Banerjee), an intellectual who’s due to give a speech on the contemporary woes of the Muslim faith. In New Delhi, sex-positive painter and activist Sakhi (Bhavani Lee) leads a charge to sexual mores while pushing away Leela (Preeti Gupta), who’s returned to Sakhi following an escape from a proposed, arranged marriage.
While these storylines don’t literally cross throughout the film, they’re united by extreme instances of violence, which Kumar steadily deploys as if vying to make torture porn. Once Husain has Fareed in his possession, the film becomes a bloodbath, lingering on slashed flesh and broken limbs with an adamancy that the proceedings need to get squishy and vile before resolutions can be reached. In New Delhi, the intimidation tactics of local government officials leads to the imprisonment and rape of Sakhi and Leela. By reveling in pulp scenarios bred from broadly stated cultural dilemmas, the New York portion of Unfreedom comes to resemble a low-rent Wild Strawberries with home invasion and extensive gore sequences, while the New Delhi segments trade on the same dubious premise of graphic exploitation for the sake of consciousness raising as 2012’s Miss Bala.
The film’s troubled aesthetics are exacerbated by a screenplay that contains the trappings of amateur toil, including dialogue that harps on innocuous moments and trifling exposition. A meandering baddie epitomizes this, peering out from his car and spouting unnecessary lines like “He’s in the cab. I’m on it,” into a cellphone. The moment is meant to be a tension builder; instead, it’s a paint-by-numbers segue and the kind of needlessly stated detail that a more elliptical or even well researched and thoughtful film would omit entirely. Characters consistently make assertions with a desire to offer Big Statements, like “The God that wins is the God with the deepest pockets.” Kumar prefers blanket postulations over subtler political tacks. As such, the bulk of exchanges sound as if they were snatched directly from a pamphlet or ham-fisted instructional guide. Unfreedom wields scenes of rape, murder, and racism in the name of anti-xenophobia, but these efforts are comprehensively undermined by an inability to engage such issues without relishing its own falsely grandiloquent grotesqueries.