“Unfreedom” cobbles together two disparate narratives: In one, Pakistani terrorist Husain (Bhanu Uday) arrives in New York to assassinate antifundamentalist Muslim intellectual Fareed (Victor Banerjee); in the other, Indian runaway bride Leela (Preeti Gupta) bolts from the arranged marriage set by her martinet father and chooses her noncommittal, free-loving bisexual girlfriend Sakhi (Bhavani Lee) instead.
Retreading some themes more thoroughly realized in Maryam Keshavarz’s “Circumstance” and Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” “Unfreedom” doesn’t present any new angles.
In writer-director Raj Amit Kumar’s heavy-handed political theater, characters are little more than avatars of opposing cultural currents. By not developing characters fully so that they’re identifiable and relatable, the violence they endure proves numbing. The story line of Husain and Fareed eventually devolves into torture porn, and the one with Leela and Sakhi feels like just porn.
It’s a bit disingenuous to tout the film as banned in India. Judging from its English dialogue, gratuitous nudity and graphic sex, the American-educated Kumar didn’t intend it for an Indian audience in the first place. Indeed, this two-for-one bundle of South Asian polemics panders to Western values and preys on Western ignorance. Why patiently comb through a culture or a religion for ambiguities when it’s simpler to just dismiss it as barbaric?
“Unfreedom.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. Playing: Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood. Also on VOD.