This is a late review – but if you have not yet seen the film and plan to, please be aware that this review contains spoilers.
I finally caught up to A Wednesday. It had been soundly praised all over and even got several nominations – something unheard of in small budget films. Directed by Neeraj Pandey, the film begins with a somber Anupam Kher, a police chief on the verge of retirement, talking about his most interesting case, “That bastard! That bastard had the guts to come into our life and blow it apart – it was a Wednesday.” Thus we are told right at the start that there was a criminal – he was a “bastard who blew lives apart”! And so we expect a criminal, and as we are led along the story we expect someone with terror connections, someone who is out to get law enforcement and force them to free known and incarcerated terrorists. The cast of characters in simple – there is the police Commissioner Rathod (Kher), his able lieutenant – Inspector Jai Singh (Aamir Bashir), a “rogue” cop (Jimmy Shergill), a newscaster Naina Roy (Deepal Shaw), and the “bastard” – or common man (Naseer Shah), some captured terrorists – and a bunch of extras.
The common man is first shown leaving a bag in a busy train station, then at a police station, and then setting up his operations from a rooftop of a building under-construction. The Commissioner receives a phone cal telling him that there are 5 bombs planted across the city and several imprisoned terrorists must first be gathered in one location until further instructions. After this a taut cat and mouse game ensues that involved cell phone number rerouting, phone switching, elaborate scheme to blow up the terrorists with high tech explosives, and the common man is one step ahead of the cops all along the way. The TV reporter is used as a pawn by both sides. In the ultimate shocking revelation we see the terrorists blown up by the common man and then we hear his explanation for how frustrated he is with the lax ways of the authorities, their trading terrorists in deals, their inability to provide for the basic safety of the common man and how he has taken things into his own hands! Even the police chief is shown to applaud his activities in private.
The chase scenes are a thrilling zig-zag between speeding cars on Mumbai roads, or foot chases in narrow alley ways in the city, as various informers are hunted down, and bombs discovered. The teeming city of Mumbai with common people rushing about their daily business, makes a perfect backdrop for this play-out of angst within common men. Born of our anger and helplessness, this self-affirming actionmakes us root for him and the film as some elemental level, as we have often felt what he is now articulating and we have wanted to hit back as he has hit back.
The performances range from great to decent. Anupam easily tops my list, followed by Jimmy Shergill and Aamir Bashir, and then Naseer. Jimmy is a great actor who is woefully underutilized in Hindi cinema. Aamir Bashir is a find! While Naseer starts out enigmatic and matter of fact, he settles into a groove as the film progresses. However, for me this one is far short of his great performances as it lacks the intensity one expects from him.
This brings me to the story itself and to the “moral responsibility” issue such a story is supposed to carry. This is where I began to have problems with the film. The makers used “sleight of hand” to manipulate us into thinking this was a story of a terrorist masterminding release of other terrorists. The opening sentence by Anupam Kher “The bastard walked into our lives and blew it apart” implied a BAD man. Then we see him dropping off a bag at a train station and then at a police station. So we were told there were multiple bombs and shown two – in the end the common man says he had only planted one in the police station, again playing false with the audience. Anupam Kher whispers to Aamir Bashir to shoot Jimmy – and Jimmy looks on knowingly and with a look of helpless sadness, implying that he is a rogue cop and will be taken down. But in the end he is to be injured as a reason to shoot the terrorists. Why can Jimmy not be part of this exchange? These deception devices keep the audience engaged but in the end they are huge plot-holes in the script. The fact that a common man is more savvy than the authorities and keeps them on their toes by using modern electronics and technology is another issue – the regular common man struggles to have one cell phone, and does not have the wherewithal to have multiple phones, switching devices, to buy explosives and set up such a major scheme. There is no back-story to convince us THIS common man is capable of all that, and indeed such a back story would make this man most uncommon. The moral responsibility issue is even more troubling. It is exhilarating and liberating to see terrorists blown up by the common man, but it is troubling that the repercussions of such an act are not fully comprehended by the makers. The authorities have to take responsibility for this elimination of terrorists and that in itself is a method to generate more terrorists, who will retaliate for this elimination by inflicting more torture on the common man. This is an escalating war and every action has an opposite and more intense reaction. Thus the makers lose out on the “moral responsibility” issue in the film and fall far short of making anything with a good message. They have merely made a thriller and one that thrills not because of excellent writing, but because it starts out with deceptions and cheats the audience.
The pacing is good and the lack of music a boon given the subject matter of the film. One hopes that Neeraj Pandey will use this experience to create a taut script and give more thought to all the ramifications of the story next time. A hawkish eye-for-an-eye approach has limited success is the war on terror.
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