Pragoti editorial team's Subhanil Chowdhury reviews A Wednesday in our weekly feature of film reviews.
The latest bomb-blasts in Delhi and the numerous other bomb-blasts by terrorists have taken the lives of large number of innocent people. Each time a bomb-blast takes place, innocent people lose their lives. Each bomb-blast only brings out the fragility of the common man’s life in this country, the incapacity of the security system and the police to nub the terrorists before they strike and of course the ruthlessness of the terrorists who are killing at will. Each bomb-blast brings to us images of devastation and horror day in and day out through the 24 hours news channels and watching those images we thank our fortunes that we have escaped the latest terrorist attack and prepare for another day of hard work, while politicians pledge to fight terror. In this situation of insecurity and a kind of hopelessness, what can the common man do? What can be the common man’s answer to the menace of terrorism?
The film A Wednesday tries to provide answer to these questions. In the film a common man, Naseeruddin Shah, suddenly decides to teach the entire system and the terrorists a lesson. He uses the most sophisticated equipments, allegedly used by terrorists today, threatening to blow up bombs in Mumbai, unless four terrorists are released. The Police Commissioner, Anupam Kher, has no option but to accept his demands and the four terrorists are released. Three of them are then killed by a bomb-blast orchestrated by Naseerudding Shah. The fourth one is killed by the police, since Shah threatens to trigger bombs in Mumbai unless the fourth one is killed. The helpless Police Commissioner and the Chief Minister have no option but to agree, fearing a bomb blast.
This entire drama is played out by Shah in the name of the faceless common man, who has been the victim of terrorist attacks unable to get justice and security from the impotent security apparatus and the judiciary. An eye for an eye – that is the motto that Shah gives in the movie. He is doing no wrong. He is just cleaning the system of pests like the terrorists.
The movie has won accolades from critiques as well as the masses both for its technical and cinematic value as well as the politics that has been depicted in the movie. We however feel that the entire structure and the politics of the movie is deeply problematic and should be unequivocally rejected because of the following reasons:
The fact that common people are the sufferers of terrorism is undeniable. The amount of insecurity produced in the people after such attacks is also beyond dispute. But so is the case with victims of communal violence, like the Gujarat pogrom. Can anyone in Bollywood dare to make a movie where a common man suddenly decides to avenge the death of hundreds of people in Gujarat and kill somebody like Babu Bajrangi (a man accused of committing large number of murders during the Gujarat carnage)? The answer is an unequivocal no. The fact that the premise of the film was chosen as common man’s revenge against terrorism and not as common man’s revenge against communal violence shows that the film tries to play upon the deep prejudices against Muslims. That is why in the film, all the terrorists are Muslims and they say that they are proud of Mumbai-1993 and other such acts of violence. Nobody in the film talks about the plight of the Muslims after the Gujarat carnage. Even though the film is based in Mumbai, Naseeruddin or anybody else never mentions the wounds inflicted on the Muslim community in the post-Babri demolition riots in Mumbai itself. It is projected as if the only form of violence that claims innocent lives in India is bomb-blasts by terrorists.
The film is however, apparently, conscious about the problem of projecting Muslims as terrorists. In order to project another Muslim identity, the film shows Arif Khan, a honest and brave police officer who is given the responsibility to take the terrorists to the designated place. This character is also highly problematic. It is shown in the movie that the Muslim officer is the most ruthless officer in the force, who beats up people mercilessly. He has no family, unlike the other Hindu police officer, who has a caring wife who calls him almost every hour. This ruthlessness and violence of the Muslim police officer only strengthens the stereotype that Muslims are essentially violent.
The film is problematic on other counts as well. When Naseeruddin Shah calls the Police Commissioner and asks him to fix a negotiator, the Chief Minister relegates the responsibility to the Commissioner giving him unlimited powers to deal with the situation. At the same time the Chief Minister expresses his incompetence to deal with such situations. There have been constant attempts on the part of the media to denigrate the role of the political leadership in the country. It is projected that the political leadership is most worthless and inefficient. While it is true that there are problems with the political leadership in the country, they are the democratically elected representatives of the people. It is the right and the duty of the political leadership, who are accountable to the people, to take important political decisions. However, in the movie we see an immediate snub to the political leadership and a taking over of the police who are given unlimited powers.
Secondly, as far as the terrorists in the movie are concerned, it is never mentioned as to whether any case has been proved against them or not. Are they really responsible for the bomb blasts in Mumbai trains, which are constantly referred to in the movie? Has the judiciary pronounced its verdict on them? If yes, what is the verdict? Nothing is said. Naseeruddin pronounces them as guilty and kills them. In this entire process, the rule of law, the right of the accused to face free trial is completely subverted. No one in the film even utters a word of protest to what was being done in the name of common man. In the end, the Police Commissioner lets Naseeruddin go with pleasant words. Who has given the right to this so called common man to kill people? Moreover, who has given the right to the Police Commissioner to let him go? Today, we are seeing large scale resentments against the police and the media within the Muslim community because of their insensitivity towards the community. Every Muslim youth who is arrested by the police is pronounced guilty immediately. The film also does the same and further argues for mindless killing having scant regard for the rule of law.
The larger question however remains. At the end of the day what can the common man do in the face of such terrorist attacks? This question needs deep thinking on the part of the entire political establishment as well as the people. The answer cannot lie in the policy of eye for an eye. A culture of violence free politics has to be collectively cultivated. Secondly, the anti-Muslim prejudices have to be collectively shunned and the police must be made accountable to the people. This is only possible with democratic parties and voices politically marginalizing the fundamentalists of all varieties. In short, only a democratic political movement is an answer to terrorism. Neither a police state nor the common man turning himself into a terrorist can provide any solution.