Subhash K Jha speaks about A Wednesday


By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network

First things first. A Wednesday is not about the train blasts that rocked Mumbai in 2005. It isn't so much to do about terrorism and counter-terrorism as it is about making these grim socio-political facts into digestible riveting cinema. And that's where A Wednesday scores over Mumbai Meri Jaan and other recent films on the wrath of extremism.

Debutant director Neeraj Pandey turns the grim reality of terrorism into an engaging game of cat - and - mouse played between a master blaster (Naseeruddin Shah) and a senior cop (Anupam Kher). They hardly meet. They don't need to.

Just the pleasure of watching Shah and Kher play out a cat-and-mouse game against the backdrop of a teeming bustling sinisterly jeopardized Mumbai city, is ample reason to discard all our other misgivings about the sheer feasibility of the plot.

Pandey's taut screenplay goes to one of Hollywood's oldest scripting formats… The law-enforcing hero in clenched and clinching conversation with the brilliant antagonist who enjoys teasing and provoking the hero into a wild and breathless chase. Frankly, so do we. Though on this occasion the physical exertions of the cop and the terrorist are somewhat limited by their growing years.

Cleverly the narration manoeuvres all the physical action away from the two aging protagonists to a couple of hot-blooded young cops played effectively by Jimmy Sheirgill and Aamir Bashir who hurl into camera range in a meteoric rush of adrenaline to remind us that the streets of Mumbai have always created a flutter in the clutter in our films. Just go back to every film from Satya to Aamir and see what we mean.

Cinematographer Fuwad Khan captures the whoosh of steroid-driven blood on the roads of Mumbai with a disaffected relish. A lot of the film has been shot in stylish top-shots where the characters' terrorists and counter-terrorist manoeuverings appear larger than life and yet miraculously shrunken in the cosmic scheme of things. Violence in this way is made both comic and cosmic.

It's a master-stroke to have Naseeruddin Shah bark out his extremist orders to his cop-ally from the rooftop of an under-construction building. From where this crypric caller with explosive news stands, we see Mumbai in a vertiginous light, filled with ominous sights and sounds.

Most of the film cracks the entertainment code through the ongoing dialogue between the cop and the master-blaster, quite in Clint Eastwood and John Malvokich in Wolfgang Petersen's In The Line Of Fire, triggering off a thought-provoking chain of ideas on the common man and terrorism and how far the violence of extremism affects the self -worth of the middleclass.

The closing lap of the edge-of-the-seat why-dunnit is a clever plot-defining twist, perhaps too clever for its own good. For, what we get here is terrorism turned inside-out, the anguish of extremism facing upside-down. It's an interesting but unacceptable end-game, more suited to Quentin Tarantino when all the while we were looking at Neeraj Pandey's film as belonging to Mahesh Bhatt's genre of cinema.

By the time Naseer's eruptive enthusiasm climaxes the narration goes into the realm of the improbable, contriving to create an atmosphere of utter escapism in a film that you thought was stubbornly wedded to reality.

But that's the way the writer-director Neeraj Pandey has been heading all along. His narrative hurls towards a photo-finish where the newspaper headlines are swallowed up in a swamp if thriller-rituals that take the plot aback to create an aura of unstoppable suspense.

Sanjoy Chowdhury's background music over-punctuates every sequence. But then that's precisely what this out-of-the-box terrorist-thriller was looking for. The humour, when it strikes, is like the bomb blasts. Sudden and unexpected, though a little on the grimmer side. Veejay Gaurav Chopra as a shit-scared film star getting extortion calls is mousy enough to remind us that heroes don't come out of the movies. But heroic movies surely do come along once in a while from the movie industry. A Wednesday is certainly one of them.

Watch it to see how cleverly the director subverts the real-life headline-driven genre of cinema into a riveting race to the finish line. Most of all, it's the performances of the two principal actors that holds A Wednesday together. Moving away from his recent comic antics, Anupam Kher delivers a controlled bridled performance as a cop who has seen it all. He happily allows Naseeruddin Shah to take over many scenes giving his co-star some riveting reactive cues.

Naseeruddin Shah is back in full form after a rather embarrassing gap of cameo-commitments. Naseer in his element is an experience that needs no definition. He plays the jaded but spirited bomb -planting anonymous caller with a wry blunt and edgy sardonicism creating for his character a space that pitches his angst in the wide-open loosely-defined crowds of desolation in Mumbai. Naseer doesn't play this twisted ideologue for any sympathy. He gives this average middleclass man just the right shades of bruised and wounded consciousness.

A Wednesday is not quite the seamless little masterpiece on terrorism that you expected. It resorts to many wild swipes in the plot. Some characters like the dude-like computer hacker and the TV journalist (played by Deepal Shaw) give embarrassing single-note performance. In fact, I could see no difference in that one doleful expression that Ms Shaw gives to her characters in A Wednesday and Chamku last week.

Maybe there's a message here. True brilliance is often better-defined when located in mediocrity. Watch Naseer and Anupam to know how a one-to-one drama works when two actors provide a psychological and emotional equilibrium from the two ends of the moral spectrum