Though it starts off as a cautiously optimistic conversion narrative, the pseudo-progressive, banned-in-India LGBT drama Unfreedom quickly devolves into an absurdly pessimistic provocation.
The film’s bifurcated plot initially concerns two Muslims whose lifestyles are reluctantly defined by their families’ fundamentalist beliefs: While Leela (Preeti Gupta) defies her intolerant father by publicly coming out with partner Sakhi (Bhavani Lee), Husain (Bhanu Uday) follows in his terrorist brother’s footsteps by agreeing to kidnap and film the execution of Fareed (Victor Banerjee), an anti-extremist public speaker.
Both characters’ faith is tested by religious trial, but neither protagonist gets to decide his or her own fate. During maudlin childhood flashbacks about his father, and gratuitously bloody nightmares of burka-clad killers, Husain struggles with the idea of using violence to prove his piety. But after he kidnaps Fareed, it’s the hostage who decides the terms of the torture.
Leela also becomes a supporting character in her own story after she runs away with Sakhi. She’s then hounded by a group of homophobes who steer her narrative to a pitilessly gruesome foregone conclusion. Leela and Husain’s lack of agency wouldn’t be so bad if the film’s antagonists weren’t so one-dimensional. Leela fights bigots who claim lesbianism inevitably leads to incest, and Husain teams up with thugs who use baseball bats to threaten children.
Leela and Husain may have never had a chance, but Unfreedom started kicking them before they could start falling down.