For most of it, A Wednesday! is a pretty enjoyable film. A brisk plot, well-fleshed characters, and some terrific performances make this film an entertaining watch and what should have been a creditable debut for Neeraj Pandey as director. The film’s nameless protagonist (Naseeruddin Shah) represents the “aam junta”, the common man who has his life constantly ravaged by fundamentalism, violence, and terrorism. He is trapped in the mundane realities of eking out a survival in India, and has almost got used to the idea that this is a way of life. Almost. Because he has finally been pushed over the edge. He is no longer willing to be the quiet victim, to go out silently into the darkness. He has lost, and he is hurt. He wants to stand up and fight for what is right. He has had enough. But a fatally flawed climax leaves an important question for the makers of this film, one whose answer seals the final verdict on the film: Is violence a justified response to violence? The answer is an unequivocal no, and this is the problem with the point A Wednesday makes.
A Wednesday! starts slowly, setting up the lead players. It’s business as usual for Mumbai’s Commissioner of Police. Prakash Rathod – played ably by Anupam Kher – as he keeps a watchful eye on the city and its people. We are introduced to two cops – Jimmy Shergil (intense), a super-cop whose fists talk faster than his mind thinks, and Aamir Bashir, a responsible cop, a loving husband and father of a three month old. Deepal Shaw plays an ambitious reporter waiting for her Watergate to happen.
Their routine is shattered with a series of anonymous phone calls. The caller threatens the CoP with blasts across the city unless his demands are met. Rathod is forced to take him seriously when he discovers one of the bombs planted in a police station across the road. He takes control of his squad, directing his resources to try and trace the caller, and where he is calling from. At the same time, he stalls for time and tries to comply with the demands made to keep the caller at bay till they have a breakthrough. Their efforts seem futile though, and Rathod is forced to order Jimmy and Aamir to release and deliver four high-profile terrorists so that they can abscond to freedom. As the film races towards the climax, we have the proverbial twist in the tale where the prisoners are blown to bits by the caller, instead of abetting their escape. It is then that we realize the motives of the caller. He is not a terrorist. He is the distraught citizen with no cultural or religious identity who has taken the law in his hands. This is his response to the train blasts in Mumbai, the Parliament attack in Delhi, the blasts in 1993. He has held the city and it’s security to ransom, and forced them to do what he thinks is final justice. An eye for an eye, it seems.
Neeraj Pandey does a few things right in the film. The film is set between 2 and 6:30 pm (on a Wednesday, of course), and this setting lends itself to a fair amount of tension right away. The script stitches the plot points and events very well, and never lets the pace of the film slip. In a film whose actual length is very close to the time frame of the story, this can be challenging, and to that end, the script is manages to keep the going on engaging all the way through. The screenplay is crisp and taut, and makes excellent use of all the main characters as they play their parts leading to the climax. As a narrative, this is a well-orchestrated effort.
An area the film does lack is in details. Naseer setups up a one-man-mission-control atop an under construction building, a setup that seems to compete and trump the entire tech setup of Mumbai’s police. Highly unlikely. As is the fact that he was able to setup a booby trap bomb for the four terrorists in the middle of an air strip, without anyone noticing. Oh and yes, he procured the RDX and built the bomb himself. There are other minor bloopers as well, but the above are critical to the plausibility of the plot, and take away from the credibility of the scripting effort. There really are no short cuts to a good script, and you are bound to be exposed if you do take one.
The performances are consistently good. Alternating between the tough cop in whose hands lies the safety of millions of innocent people and the frustrated cop who can’t do anything but go with the circumstances, Anupam Kher is wonderful and reliable as always. Naseeruddin Shah is the common man turned justice enforcer, the man behind the calls, and the character choreographing the events in the film. Yet again, this is a masterclass. His mere demeanour creates his character. The slightly bent back, the awkward fitting shirt, that simmering anger of the trodden middle class, its great stuff. He can go from the obedient husband to a menacing terrorist to an angry civilian seamlessly. He plays his role perfectly, and is another reminder of how we need more roles for actors like him in Bollywood. Neither of the roles are written with any real depth, and are not particularly challenging assignments for these two seasoned performers. But give them to a lesser actor and you’d see the difference. From the others, Jimmy Shergill is far and away the most endearing. His charismatic, aggressive cameo is delightful to watch, and he’s definitely the cool element in the film.
For all its merits as a film, A Wednesday! cannot be applauded. Naseeruddin’s impassioned call for justice in the end is a justification of the film’s message of trading in death. This is an echo of Rang De Basanti’s premise as well, and it is an alarming observation. The makers have overlooked the obvious paradox of the situation – in doing what he does, Naseer’s character greys out the lines of differences between himself and the terrorists he killed. His justification is no longer valid, and with it, neither is the film.
Hindi, Thriller, Drama, Color