Cast: Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah, Jimmy Shergill, Aamir Bashir, Deepal Shaw
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Runtime: 100 min.
Ten minutes into the film and an outline of the shallow intricacies of this film laid itself threadbare before me. There’s precious little in those early moments that perform any function by way of plot, and a lot of padding up is done under the pretext of introducing to us the characters. Rather the players, because calling this bunch characters would be a designation most undeserving. And at least with one of them the film intends to portray a symbol rather than somebody in actual flesh and blood. That it does later, by means of a tale that is most perfunctory is a shame.
Never mind, and it was all fine and dandy. What surprised me most though was not the success of my predictions regarding the plot in general, and the twist in particular, but the speed in which my subconscious movie senses responded to – (i) the loud and flashy camera movements that are deputed the job of capturing five minutes worth of city life rush, (ii) the obligatory attempts at character depth, and (iii) the ‘scripted’ dialogue ‘delivered’ by actors, many of them coming out woefully stilted. Observation (ii) fascinates me the most, and I guess this was the primary reason why everything from then on betrayed the inherent dishonesty of the film. I call it sophisticated stock, by which I mean these elements are pulled right out of that drawer when the need of the hour is to deliver a thriller garbed under the pretense of essential cinema. The Pune Mirror critic Mayank Shekar, in a rather unjust and deeply flawed negative review, gets one point bang on target. And that is, why so serious? Precisely. My belief has always been that a film ought to be proud in fulfilling the terms of its genre, it ought to work first as a product of that genre, and then entertain ambitions of soaring high and mighty. A Wednesday might harbor thoughts of presenting a radically different perspective to Aamir, one of my favorite films of the year. But this one is nowhere near, not in style, not in tone, not in content i.e. not in what and not in how.
The premise is a simple race against the clock, though the clock doesn’t play that big a part. An unnamed terrorist (Naseeruddin Shah) has planted five bombs across Mumbai, he rings up the Commissioner Prakash Rathod (Anupam Kher) and demands four captured terrorists be assembled at a place of his choice. He calls up the media too, providing them snippets of information so that they could linger around without knowing the big picture. In there are two cops, Jai Singh and Arif Khan (yup, the good cop bad cop routine), played respectively by Aamir Bashir, who seems to be the only guy enjoying himself and Jimmy Shergill, who appears to have put on some weight since I have last seen him. There’s the reporter Deepal Shaw, played by Naina Roy, and I would wish somebody suggest to her in the earliest that acting isn’t her true calling, any which she looks at it. Oh yeah, there’s my favorite too, a stock character sticking himself out right from one of the top shelves – the teenage college drop out hacker. I can only congratulate him for being even more of a pain to the senses than Justin Long was in last year’s awful Live Free or Die Hard.
Allow me to return to those three items I mentioned above, and elaborate myself on them. The film opens with random shots of various facets of Mumbai, and they seem to be vestigial bits and pieces pasted together to serve an obligation. The object, or objective, of such shots is to observe. Plain and simple. This one performs it as an exercise, with no conviction, no feeling, and our interest is drawn more towards the incessant cutting and the zooms and pans. As a matter of fact, I would claim with the utmost confidence that some of those clips were repeated late on. It is all the more sinful considering what the film is aspiring to be, which you’ll realize if you opt to watch it.
I guess we ought to cut the picture some slack here, and judge it for a while upon what it is for most of its running time. That is, a thriller, and A Wednesday is serviceable enough considering that the screenplay has been literally stretched to the story’s absolute limit of elasticity. At 100 minutes it flirts perilously close to overstaying its welcome, but the film maintains a steady pace inspite of going nowhere. The score, an energetic blend of drums and temple bells, is the key here and it keeps many a scene from sagging. The whole affair is terribly predictable though, and that could be considered a crime since this is a thriller. Aamir Bashir gets a tip regarding the construction site from where the terrorist is calling the shots, and there is a sequence of a few minutes that is edited in a way so as to generate tension by cutting between Bashir climbing the steps and the terrorist hearing some noise. It is a pathetically false moment, one that just doesn’t work, and the filmmaker ought to realize that we as the audience know the terrorist isn’t going to be apprehended so soon.
There’re great many such problems that the film indulges itself in, in the name of a thriller, and they all stem from one basic error – the script just isn’t meaty enough. Had there been more developments, the above sequence could have easily been chucked out. I believe the film was written with the ending in mind, and what it delivers at the climax might very well rouse you if you enjoyed Raj Kumar Santoshi for his brazen dialogues. I though savored his films more for their on and off intensity rather than their wafer-thin themes. And here, I was sorely disappointed, not in the least by its predictability, but because I consider the entire thing a mistake. A very big mistake. A Wednesday wants to work as a story but it is treading the path of an idea. And that idea sucks and spoils the joy from the rest of the film. There isn’t much style, for style is a derivative of strong characters, and here they are all walking ideas. Everything here feels oddly fake, and when the commissioner delivers a line emphasizing more on the sentence than what it is about, that ought to have rung the alarm bells. The sentence I’m talking about is in the middle of the film, when the commissioner is speaking to the reporter, and though I do not remember it verbatim, it contains a rather uncomfortable usage of ‘bloody’. Dialogues themselves do not ooze style, or nuance, they need to be ingrained inside a character plausible enough and rich enough to use it. I wonder how good the film might have been if it went along as a racy and meaty thriller with frenetic developments and then trusted its audience to learn its themes. I would respect such a film.
A friend whose opinion I respect most pinged me in the middle of the night on Saturday and with great excitement asked me if I had seen the film. I had obviously not, and by today morning he had already seen it twice. That was reason enough for me to rush to the movie with great haste, and now I wonder why. I wish to discuss with him, maybe over a long night, or maybe not because A Wednesday doesn’t have anything in it that will sustain it for more than ten minutes in any discussion or debate. Everything about it is pretense, as I said shallow pretense. It intends to employ the mechanics of a thriller, to pursue an ulterior political/social agenda, and that is fundamentally impossible without a fleshed out story. Here it has just an idea. There isn’t much fun when there obviously should have been. And don’t get me wrong here for any reason, but this is that immature film that throws at the audience muted curse words just to ‘entertain’ them. My fellow audiences laughed and cheered when an important character late in the film shouted out two of them, or maybe the same one twice, and I wondered if this was the idea of style and fun. I vividly remember audiences cheering Omkaara too, and I have to figure out exactly what is so rousing about something you hear every now and then. And if at all a curse word has to be used to generate a chuckle or two, it ought to be never the center of the joke, but be somewhere in the periphery (See, not everybody is Samuel L. Jackson). And let us not get into the twist.