Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bollywood Essentials: A Wednesday

This week, there is a Hindi movie coming out called Special 26(2013), written and directed by Neeraj Pandey. Pandey's resume contains only one movie that he has directed previously. However I consider his debut film A Wednesday(2008), to be one of the best Indian cinema has to offer and easily my favourite Indian movie of all time. I have always tried to keep everything on this blog film related and I will try to continue to do so in this post as well. But this movie and the topic it is based on being a little too close to the heart of most every Indian, some cracks are bound to appear. Hence before we go any forward, I will like to make it VERY clear that everything I will say in this post is completely my personal take on the whole situation and not to be generalized in any way. I have always refrained from saying much about this movie in public because of the subject matter being too controversial, too straight forward and also for the fear of being little too political and personally my own views on the matter being too radical. However, couple of things that have transpired in last few weeks have kept this movie constantly in my thoughts. First, there was a controversy about Tamil movie called Vishwaroopam(2013) which originated from frankly the worst by-product of having a immature secular, democratic society. And then I saw Zero Dark Thirty(2012) couple of weeks ago which I will tie-in to A Wednesday in just a bit. Considering all this, I thought this will be good time to write about my favourite Indian movie here as one of the Bollywood Essentials.

Police Commissioner Prakash Rathod is retiring from his post tomorrow and has been asked on numerous occasions in past few days as which was the most difficult case of his career? Rathod could not answer the question because the case in answer does not exist, it isn't registered anywhere and the reason is Rathod himself made sure to wipe off everything to the last detail. He recalls that it was a Wednesday, which started off as any other day but by the time sun set over the horizon, one just another common man who had the audacity to go challenge the whole system, made that day unforgettable. It starts off with an anonymous caller calling him to tell that he has planted 5 bombs in Mumbai at 5 different locations and they will go off in the evening. If he wants to avoid this, he demands the release of four captured terrorists. Being commissioner of Mumbai, where such calls are dime-a-dozen, Rathod's first suspicion is prank call. But the caller soon establishes his authenticity by giving them a location of one of his five bombs - police station right across the road from their headquarters. Once they find that bomb, Rathod and Mumbai police have no other choice but to take the caller seriously and think about what their response will be to his demands. They also realize that the caller has very well thought out every step of his plan. First three calls he makes trace back to three different numbers, each registered to someone who's not even alive anymore. Caller also brings media into the equation to be his eyes, by calling one of the reporters himself and sending her to the location of the first blast. As the things start to heat up and all their efforts to trap the caller seem to fail, Police are left with no choice but to assert his demands. They bring the four terrorists together and transport them to Juhu Aviation Base Strip as told, under supervision of two of Rathode's best men, Arif Khan and Jaipratap Singh. However, the events that transpire on this base take the wind out of everyone and culminate with probably the best, easily most poignant monologue I have seen delivered.

I am sure there are many of us wondering, what is so great about this plot? There are enough movies out there about anonymous callers holding the city hostage, even though I will also confess that for a Hindi movie, even this storyline is wholly original. But the key lies here in execution and in the reason when it's revealed about who is doing it and why? The way Pandey develops the whole plot of this movie is near perfect. Character of this caller is designed with great care and detail, giving us only what we need to know - never more, nor less. He has double checked for any loophole in his plan and worked meticulously on every last detail which keeps him two steps ahead of Police, every step of the way. Cops aren't portrayed as exactly incompetent but they are trapped playing a chasing game where they have no option but to let this caller run the show. But the greatest success of the movie lies in the fact that it fearlessly blames anyone there is to blame - Red Tape, Government, Politicians, or the system as a whole for it's incompetence or sheer inability to act, to stay strong where for someone responsible for running the nation, it is required the most. It probably is the movie that resonates the most with the common man sentimentality of an average Indian after the grossly inadequate responses of Indian government to the terror wars sent across the border, over the years. Government has been especially ineffective in this new century even after being victimized of multiple attacks like gruesome attacks of 26/11 or 2006 in Mumbai and on Indian Parliament in 2001. This movie presses all the right button of a common man to provide an outlet to vent this anger. Funny thing is despite my love for this movie, I usually hesitate calling this movie an essential. Or let me put it this way - if someone asks me to give them a list of 10-12 movies which they should see as an Introduction to Hindi Cinema(For the record, this isn't a hypothetical situation), I will Not include A Wednesday in it. 

There is almost nothing wrong with this movie. I will first count its flaws - there aren't many and in no way neutralize the quality of its content. It has some problems in its dubbing where some of the minor characters sound too artificial. In few cases, it has a look of a low-budget film. Most important scene of the movie is kinda lame cinematographically. But in counter, it has a great script, also written by Neeraj Pandey, which gets right into the story, immediately takes a grip of the viewer and never lets it go for the entire run and more importantly, keeps knocking you out time and again. Even though this is Neeraj Pandey's debut, direction of this movie is of the highest quality. With movies like this, there is a very real chance that they can get little too serious and become preachy or completely loose the track and seriousness of the subject. Pandey does a great job of finding that silver middle which works to perfection. In acting department, some minor characters stick out a little, however most excel in playing their part with Jimmy Shergil playing Hot-head ATS officer Arif Khan and Amir Bashir, in-charge of transportation of the 4 terrorists from their cells to the requested airport taking the cake. And off course, the crown jewel of this whole endeavour - its two leads, anonymous caller played by Naseeruddin Shah and Police Commissioner Prakash Rathod played by Anupam Kher. People who aren't well versed with Hindi film industry might remember Naseeruddin Shah as Captain Nemo from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen(2003) and Anupam Kher as Dr. Patel in Silver Linings Playbook(2012). Those who know a little about Hindi cinema will not need any introduction as these two character actors are two of the finest actors in the industry. Both have had long and illustrious careers with jaw-dropping range of roles but I will not hesitate for a second to call either of the roles as the Best of their respective careers.

And despite all this hyperbolic praise I have showered thus far, I try not to recommend this movie to everyone, which brings me back to Zero Dark Thirty(2012). I saw Kathryn Bigelow's latest, a couple of weeks ago. I thought of it as a well-acted, little slower but good enough paced movie. However, one of the principal criticism of this movie, which incidentally comes from most of us - non-Americans and to the most part I agree with is, it is too American. And I strongly feel that, despite being an exemplary piece of art with all its faults and triumphs, A Wednesday might be... too Indian for anyone non-Indian. With the risk of sounding presumptuous, I feel like people may not get this movie as it is not what you see on screen that makes it my favourite but what goes in my head, in my heart, in my gut when watching this movie. For us Indians, it works on multiple levels - as a movie, as a message, as a policy. For everyone else, it might be a mere movie; which to me is a very small part of the whole picture. (If anyone is willing to give it a try, A Wednesday is available on Netflix Instant.)

Rating(out of 5):

Previous Essentials:


  1. One Bollywood film that has been on my watch list for quite some time now. What I needed was a fillip and your review seems to have provided just that. I will be back to share my thoughts once I have watched it.

    1. Are. You. Serious?? You haven't seen A Wednesday?? (You remember that old 'Ye PSPO Nahi Jaanta!!' add :D)

      I will look forward to hear your thoughts.

  2. Wow, what a wonderful post! I love your description of the film and your concise explanation of the political context. This sounds like an excellent movie. I think the fact that it may be "too Indian" :) is part of what appeals to me, as I want to learn more about other cultures and recent events in other countries.

    I haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty yet, but I've noticed a definite trend toward American bloggers liking that movie a lot more than non-American bloggers, regardless of their nationality. Interesting.

    I'm adding A Wednesday to my watchlist.

    1. Thanks !! It is an excellent movie or at least I think it is.

      If and when you watch it, please let me know what you think of it. I'll be interested in an un-biased, non-Indian perspective of it.

  3. Truly, one of the best Hindi films :) But, sadly it wasn't so well made in Tamil starring Kama Haasan. It wasn't as engaging as the original or did I feel so because I was trying to compare. The cast was so apt, Shah and Kher, slip into their roles with such ease. Great review

    Do check out my blog at your convenience -

    1. Well, I have heard they tried to remake this in few other languages. Its sad, they weren't able to do it well. Anyways, I love this movie and glad you agree as well.

      I will definitely stop by your blog. Thanks for dropping in here !!

  4. Hey, I didn't notice you had this feature - great!
    I liked A Wednesday a lot, thought it was a bit slow when I saw it, but I kept thinking about Naseeruddin's awesome monologue and everything, and the more I thought about the movie, the better it got for me. Your post made it even better!
    And I disagree about not recommending it to Bollywood "beginners", because it's a really good film that resembles a non-Indian film in many ways, but also has a very Indian soul.

    1. Well, it is just fourth post in it but yeah.

      There are so many things in this movie to praise but that monologue is EVERYTHING this movie is about. Everything !

      At least we both agree that it is a great movie and has a very Indian soul. The part where we differ is I think it is 'Very' Indian. But hey, my theory is untested. Few more like you and I will gladly admit I was wrong. :)

    2. Didn't think Zero Dark Thirty was that American either... not considering the conflicts.


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