‘Akelli,’ meaning ‘alone,’ is the story of Jyoti (Nushrratt Bharuccha), a financially challenged girl who finds herself in Mosul, Iraq, just before the ISIS takeover of the country, in search of lucrative employment. She is in dire need of money because her family is under extreme pressure to pay off their debts and survive with whatever little they have. Jyoti loses her job at the airline due to a freak incident, and every effort to relocate to Muscat is unsuccessful. Forced to choose between facing dire circumstances at home or living dangerously in a fast-crumbling country, Jyoti chooses the latter and makes her way to Iraq.

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Things start looking up for her initially, and all seems well until one day when her life comes crashing down. ISIS takes over the town of Mosul, shoots the owner of the company that Jyoti was working for, and kidnaps her to cater to the vile fantasies of the ISIS terrorists. Now, Jyoti must find a way to fend off the terrorists, save her honour, and make her way out of a country that has been summarily forgotten by the rest of the world.

Important story and effective protagonist

A story like this has an immense impact primarily due to its nature, as well as the recognition that it represents the experiences of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals across Iraq and Afghanistan during the era of ISIS’s brutal subjugation. The film commences right amid the action when, on her first day in Iraq, Jyoti witnesses a child being blown up by an IED. This horrifying event immediately makes her reconsider her employment and even contemplate the option of returning to India. However, her dire predicament ultimately prevails, forcing her to stay. As a result, the film effectively establishes its premise and underscores the depth of the protagonist’s desperation. This also highlights why whatever happens to her later in the film is even more harrowing and unfortunate, as her actions are driven by selflessness and her commitment to providing for her family.

The takeover of the company and how the situation turns dire for the protagonist are envisioned and executed properly. I have to add that Amir Boutrous, the initial terrorist who tormented Jyoti, was fantastic. He had the perfect vibes for the character, and I was hoping that he would turn out to be the primary antagonist, but he is killed off unceremoniously, which was somewhat disappointing.

Lacklustre writing of the screenplay and characters after the basic premise is set

The escalation of events from this point onwards is what spoiled the film to a large extent for me. Everything that happens after this point is a series of coincidences that are so ridiculous and unbelievable that it becomes hard to take the film seriously. Even my feminist friend, with whom I was watching this film, couldn’t take the proceedings seriously and laughed on more than one occasion. Situations and predicaments that are designed to extract fear and tension do neither; instead, they invariably extract ridicule and laughter.

Nushrratt Bharuccha’s spirited performance is done in by terrible writing of her character

Nushrratt Bharuccha is a seasoned actress who is able to sell her character and its many shades through her convincing portrayal. Sadly, her character is written with so little finesse and care that it’s not her acting that’s the problem, but rather, it’s what her character does that creates issues. Jyoti violently toggles between being a petrified soul to someone who is strong and confident enough to kidnap the head of the ISIS and shoot him multiple times. This transition doesn’t happen throughout a prolonged duration but rather abruptly, making the audience question the realism and believability of such a transformation. It’s only because of how convincingly Nushrratt Bharuccha pulls off these scenes that they don’t become completely laughable. Bharuccha is particularly wonderful in some of the more subtle and emotional scenes of the film. Her camaraderie with the character played by Nishant Dahiya was heart-warming, and I would have loved to see more of this pair.

Lack of a formidable antagonist

Tsahi Halevi, who plays the primary antagonist in the film, is partially effective when he doesn’t speak English. The dialogues attributed to the character and the expressions that come with it are so cringe-inducing that they singlehandedly bring down the impact of an otherwise efficient performance. I felt that there was also a clear lack of menace in the character. There was never a scene in the film where Halevi’s portrayal sent shivers down my spine. That was necessary for a character like the one he portrays. Again, the blame for this particular failure will have to be borne by the writing team, as in terms of performance, Tsahi Halevi does a decent enough job and is underwhelmed by some seriously lacklustre writing.

Lacklustre handling of the characters and key situations

The biggest issue with the film was its treatment of the characters, the various situations and predicaments that they are shown landing in, and how they finally overcome these situations. Everything felt scripted, and most of the escapes and heroic feats pulled off by the protagonist were either the result of coincidences or good luck. This undermines the struggle and heroism of the character since she hasn’t earned the reverence of the viewers by accomplishing her near-impossible escapes on her own. While there will always be an element of luck involved, in this case, luck plays the more predominant role.

Lack of tension and drama

There is absolutely no tension, thrill, or drama in the narrative. I could practically guess every scene and how it would end. The worst crime that the director commits is ripping off a complete scene from one of the most popular and sensationally well-made films of all time, ‘The Hurt Locker.’ When a film starts with a plagiarized version of such a memorable and stomach-churning scene, it reveals the deficiency of the makers in thinking of original predicaments and situations. It also underscores the fact that they weren’t pouring their heart and soul into the film, showing a lack of homework and preparation. Coupled together, all these elements ensured that I was never impacted by the story or the characters, and this is the worst thing that could have happened for a film of this nature.

The ISIS capture of Iraq has so many well-made documentaries available on YouTube that there is no shortage of information about the human tragedy that this blood-soaked chapter of human history caused. Hence, the half-baked treatment of the subject and copying from previously made, better renditions can never be expected to capture the imagination of the audiences or impact them. The makers of ‘Akelli’ couldn’t understand this simple thing.

Final words

The makers of ‘Akelli’ chose a burning topic as the foundation for their narrative and cast their protagonist to perfection. These are the only two things they got right in a film that is more lacklustre than heart-wrenching. In its defence, the film looks good and is proficiently shot and edited. It exudes an expensive aesthetic and captures the right atmosphere for the story and setting it is based on. Nushrratt Bharuccha excels in a role that she imbues with her performance and a sense of urgency. With better writing and direction, this film could have been memorable and heart-breaking. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Rating: 2.5/5 (2.5 out of 5 Stars)

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