Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Release date: January 21, 2011
Director: Manish Gupta
Cast: Vatsal Sheth, Tulip Joshi, Mukesh Tiwari
Hostel is no longer in theatres, but I’m writing this review anyway because, well, I did make a promise in my opening post on this blog and jo vaada kiya woh nibhaana padega! Besides, the film became officially available for free download on Big Flix soon after it was removed from theatres.
The point of this review though, is not just to acquaint you with a film on an important subject. The point is to also ask a question: why in the name of all that is good do producers make films they don’t intend to promote, that they deliberately market poorly and distribute even more pathetically? Think about it … Hostel comes to us at a time when the Aman Kachroo college ragging tragedy is as top-of-the-mind as the Jessica Lal case. Yet while UTV threw its entire weight behind No One Killed Jessica, a film like Hostel tiptoed into our theatres as if afraid to disturb audiences with the news that it’s out; and here in Delhi, it was not released within the city but instead in one multiplex in Noida and one in Ghaziabad. Why? Why? Why? It’s almost as though the producer doesn’t care whether the film is a hit or a flop. Is there something going on here that you and I haven’t figured out?
Think about these questions, please, as you read this review.
Hostel stars Vatsal Sheth as Karan, a gutsy fresher in an engineering college in Maharashtra’s Satara District. The boy’s hostel here is terrorised by an over-aged resident Feroze (Mukesh Tiwari) with political ambitions. He rags the students viciously, tries to get them addicted to drugs to keep his trade flourishing, and abuses them in every conceivable fashion (verbally, emotionally, physically, even sexually) to keep them subjugated. As in all such cases, he works in collusion with the authorities, in this instance the hostel dean whose palms are regularly greased.
For a subject this grim, Manish Gupta seems the right choice of director. He has shown us with his earlier equally unheralded film Stoneman Murders that he’s got a grip on the medium. That film about an unsolved serial murder case was arrestingly told. Gupta lives up to expectations in the first half of Hostel which is compelling and has a certain natural feel to it. But somewhere along the way it becomes unconvincing and gradually comes apart.
For a film like Hostel to move us all the way it needed to show us credible situations, and to draw us completely into the lives of its victims. It fails on both fronts. I buy the story of a wannabe politician deliberately flunking year after year just to keep his hostel seat and stay active in university politics until bigger things come calling (we all know such things happen on our campuses); I buy the fact that the oppressed turn oppressors when they become seniors (we all know that happens too); I don’t, however, buy the fact that when a boy is being stripped and tortured in public, every single student in the watching crowd is enjoying his plight and not one sympathetic or fearful face is in sight except for his three friends standing at a distance.
I wish too that Gupta (who also gets the writing credits for the film) had taken the trouble to show us a gradual transition of those three cowering, bumbling friends from victims to willing observers and facilitators of crimes as gruesome as rape! We needed to understand why, despite their repugnant behavior through so much of their time together, the upright Karan remains their friend. The writer-director also needed to establish a much stronger bond between Karan and the new, mis-treated fresher for Karan’s final decision to appear plausible.
As for the extremely violent actions of a significant character at the end (I’m not saying who), it’s unclear whether the film is suggesting that this is what happens in the real world or this is what ought to be. Either way, it didn’t work.
Still, Hostel has its pluses. It’s clearly well intentioned. The opening sequences of ragging are brutal and yet not sensationalised; chilling, to say the least. I particularly liked the scene in which Feroze’s henchman Ayubbhai is impressed by young Karan’s courage and earnestness, and decides not to harm him. And it was interesting to see too that the brute, like all bullies, didn’t have the courage to stand up to a challenge; Feroze’s compromise with Karan was amusing, unexpected and realistic all in one.
Mukesh Tiwari in this film is excellent as the evil Feroze. Tulip Joshi – who was interesting in Mathrubhumi: A Nation Without Women – is effective in a supporting role as Karan’s girlfriend. Vatsal Sheth has a pleasant face and attractive personality but as the brave heart of the hostel in Hostel his is, oddly enough, the most poorly written character in the film. A pity because like No One Killed Jessica, this too is an important story that needed to be told.
Rating (out of five): **

Important note: Hostel is available for free download on … I had a terrible time watching it on this link but I’m told by the director that it’s much better outside India. Is that true? If you’re outside India and reading this, do drop me a line and let me know.


  1. Movies made on social issues seem to get such little presence in our country, unless there is a star value attached to it. Even NOKJ worked so much more because there was a Rani and a Vidya in it, the attention perhaps was a bit more. Even historically - A Mother India was so much more powerful because there was a Nargis in it. Guess star value cant be ignored here.

  2. Actually you never know, when Raju Hirani may just decide a John Abraham starrer which will turn out to be a mega hit!