Aamir (2008) and A Wednesday (2008): A Tale of two Climaxes

Good cinema is often manipulative. Given I am more often than not an ideal audience for filmmakers when it comes to this, I saw Aamir (2008) and A Wednesday (2008) recently. The successful films, especially the latter, were heralded as prime examples of an evolving Bollywood. And it is the latter, especially, that was timed to perfection, enough to blindside the vast majority who did not hesitate to not only jump on the thoughtless bandwagon that incorrectly represents the aam aadmi (common man), but to ride with it.

There are several similarities across the two films. Both are based in Bombay. Both feature protagonists who initially receive life-changing phone calls. Both portray as terrorists individuals claiming to follow a common faith, and both attempt (one more successfully) to compensate with protagonists of the same faith. Both are dialogue-driven, and complemented by excellent screenplays that result in engaging, fast-paced suspense thrillers, complete with effective twists. Both use their share of cliches -- a red briefcase, a news-hungry reporter, a helpful prostitute, a politician who cannot negotiate, the wife of a protagonist who is about to board a train that might be destined for terror -- there are many more, but the usage in each case is anything but a convergence to the filmy norm. Both use soundtracks as parts of background scores to action. And both have brilliant performances driving them to gripping and disturbing climaxes, which is where one film clearly outshines the other. On completeness, credibility, problem-solving, ethics, and principles.

Aamir (2008) is the story of Dr. Aamir Ali (Rajeev Khandelwal). His life is turned upside down the moment he arrives at the Bombay airport (from the U.K.), where he's given a phone and forced to speak. At the other end is a terrorist who's held Aamir's family hostage. To free them, Aamir must follow instructions that take him through some of the most disturbing and testing corners of the city, and interact with people who tend to occupy such terrain. How will Aamir (the word means 'leader') choose to solve the issues, and will he succumb to the will of the terrorists?

The film is brought to us by a team of newcomers. Director Rajkumar Gupta, Actor Rajeev Khandelwal, Music Director Amit Trivedi, do very well in their film debuts. Think of Khandelwal as at the intersection of Jimmy Shergill and Emran Hashmi. His character demanded portrayal of a multitude of emotions, ranging from frustration to stress, anger, sympathy, contentment, confidence, helplessness, and steadfastness, and given that the camera was mostly focused on him for the duration of the film (it is by his side we see the film), we can tell he had absolutely no issues delivering a fine performance. Well done Mr. Khandelwal, yours is easily one of the finest debuts in recent times.

The other startling highlight in Aamir, in addition to some fantastic camera work, is its soundtrack. Perfectly integrated as part of the background score, the variations in its tunes range from jazz (to kick off the film) to devotional (a soulful qawwali kicks off the album), a couple of brilliant urban tunes for the action and suspense sequences, a delightful 'Ghumyo Chakkar' ('encircle' -- what was it in the discussion on Teesri Manzil (1966) last week, about what goes around comes around?), and a haunting melody that accompanies the climax. Honorable mention to one of the more underrated vocalists Shilpa Rao for 'Ek Lau'. She's delivered only great (but few) songs over the last couple of years, and it's about time she became a household name.

I'm going with close to four stars for Aamir. It's a noteworthy film in many respects. The one glaring flaw is that we aren't given an explanation for why Aamir Ali was picked above everyone else. But that's easy to overlook given the rest. Check it out if you enjoy thrillers.

Movie rating: 3.75/5 (Very good!)
Nicki has some interesting observations in her review, as she notes the film draws inspiration from the Filipino film Cavite. This Rediff piece notes that the makers of Aamir showed the film to the makers of the original and obtained a no-objection certificate, which is a step in the right direction.

Music rating: 4/5 (Excellent integration!)
Lyrics by Amitabh Varma fit like hand in glove.

My classification: NC-17 (greater than R; for language, violence, theme)

Official website: AamirTheFilm.com

A Wednesday is directed by Neeraj Pandey, and has music by Sanjoy Chowdhary. Police Commissioner Prakash Rathod (Anupam Kher) receives a phone call from an unknown source. At the other end is an unidentified Naseeruddin Shah, who demands the release of four individuals jailed for terrorism. What follows is dramatic and testing, and underscored by some fantastic and thunderous performances by heavyweights Kher and Shah, and cops Arif (Jimmy Shergill) and Jai (Aamir Bashir).

The cinematography is excellent. The dialogue (although laden with expletives) stands out, and its delivery is phenomenal, as expected. The music is apt as a standalone product (although one singer in particular needs to get his Qs and Ks right!), and effective as part of the score to action. The score is a definite highlight, and a beautiful complement to the film.

Forget for a moment that Bombay would would be well served with a police force at 10% the efficiency of what is showcased (and this command center is interesting, to say the least; I almost want to call the police commissioner to discover if it's real -- maybe I shall).

Forget for a moment the suspension of checks and balances for the commissioner. Forget for a moment the religious symbolism and lectures. And forget for a moment that torture is, depending on how one looks at it, almost glorified. These bits are disturbing, but pale in comparison to the climax, which, as brilliantly executed as it is from a filmmaking standpoint, falls short for two reasons (*spoiler alert*):

  1. If the film wants us to believe that the protagonist didn't want to name himself for fear of being subject to stereotyping on religious grounds, how would it explain that the terrorists to be murdered claimed to belong to one faith?

  2. Assuming we ignore #1, how can we ignore that there can be absolutely no justification, even for a filmy protagonist of sorts, to perform serious crimes against humanity (and the police!) and not face any consequences whatsoever?

These two factors, mostly the second, are bothersome, especially given that any skepticism the film could have (and should have) faced was largely overlooked, which is the only conclusion one can draw in the light of almost unanimous consensus hailing the film as a valid voice of the aam aadmi (common man) in India. I'm almost relieved to read Bollyviewer's thoughts here -- we disagree on what the 'Rang De Basanti school of thought' is (see below for more), but we do agree on A Wednesday.

No! This destructive version of common man cannot represent us peaceful commoners, who would never endanger the lives of the innocent and those of the protectors of society (although I wouldn't entirely trust the Bombay police to be 'protectors' any way).

Common men and women of India: Are we so blinded by frustration and helplessness, so vulnerable, that we applaud how easily a terrorist in his own right scored one in the guise of a 'common man'?

Movie rating: Unrated (my first)
It's a well-made film and has fine performances, but the destructive message is among the most disturbing I have seen on film, enough to wipe out the brilliance of these two gentlemen coming together.

Music rating: 2.75/5 (Above average)

My classification: NC-17 (greater than R; for language, violence, theme)

Official website: aWednesdayTheFilm.com

And Finally...
A similar categorization of the messages behind A Wednesday and Rang De Basanti (RDB -- 2006) is tempting, but not one I agree with.

It's likely we would not dispute absolutely (the keyword here is 'absolutely') the outcome the protagonists in RDB were confronted with -- maybe not the method and the extent -- but I think we all agree they deserved punitive treatment. And the film would be incomplete without especially the final three or so minutes, in which the media speak to the film's target audience, whose words indicate that in actionable terms, a 'public servant' (the Air Force pilot) is their role model. That that is not the primary image RDB leaves most with (because, perhaps the bits immediately preceding are a little too overwhelming) is a flaw of the film.

In A Wednesday, things are much more controlled (as ridiculous as that sounds!) because the character is more decisive and deliberate (not an impulsive, immature, college student). There is every intent to threaten, and hardly much desire to acknowledge wrongdoing -- contrast with the scene in RDB in which DJ (Aamir Khan) and Karan (Siddharth) speak over the airwaves, and explicitly acknowledge and take accountability for wrongdoing. And Sukkhi (Sharman Joshi), who was the more questioning of the lot from the outset, even obtains consent from his peers of the impulsiveness of their actions.

This is how I interpret the conclusions to the two films. I think they're ideologically different. Of course, I may be completely wrong :) In either case, cinema and its manipulative ways win!


Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Aamir I couldnt bring myself to see, because I cannot stand that boy- but after your review, maybe I need to.

Totally hilarious timing on the "A Wednesday" movie. One cant help but admire the fact that Naseer (especially him) and Anupam rose way above what was given to them to do.

I think it speaks to the movie's intent that Jimmy's character was Muslim- more tension, more fodder for angst :S V unsatisfying that. The only thing that saved the movie for me was that they didnt crucify Naseer.

Anonymous said...

A very articulate and well written critique, TBF. After the rave reviews A Wednesday got, I've been scared of checking out Aamir too, but now I can go ahead and order it! :-)

I guess we can attribute the popularity of A Wednesday to its great timing which tapped into the fear the bombings generated - a bit like the 70s' Angry Young Man phenomenon tapped into the angst of the unemployed youth and a populace suffering from mass corruption.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Shweta: LOL at 'can't stand that boy'! He's really done quite well here. Have you seen any of his TV shows?

Naseer and Anupam are class acts, and they were brilliant here.

As they walked past each other, I yelled, "don't tell me usey jaane dega"...my friend tried to calm me down by saying, "it's only a movie, yaar." So it really was that bit where he faced no consequences, that bothered me most. He deserved to be arrested! Had they done that, I'd have liked the film a whole lot more.

I do agree that the movie meant well in some respects, hence Jimmy's character. But it really wasn't enough to make up for justice being ignored :'(


Nicki said...

Wow, very interesting reviews on both! Now I understand your concerns more on Aamir. From what I remember, Aamir was chosen because of his name, mainly. At least in Cavite, Adam was chosen for a logical reason - mainly his father's past.

I do want to see A Wednesday. I'm still amuse by your No Rating for the movie. ;)

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Bollyviewer: Thank you! I think you'll find Aamir interesting. It's disturbing in its own right, yes, but not near as much as A Wednesday. Aamir the character's problem-solving is one that is difficult to disagree with, given the context.

You're absolutely correct about A Wednesday being perfectly timed. That's got to be it. And that's an interesting thought about the Angry Young Man phenomenon, I'd never thought of that!

Nicki: Thank you for your comment. That bit on the selection from Cavite, Aamir the film could have used. Not exactly that of course, but more of an explanation than merely a name (most names stand for something good, and can be made to fit a situation somehow! Maybe I'm being too picky here).

And I couldn't think of any other way than 'No Rating' for A Wednesday :)


Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

But it was Naseer!!! looking like a sweet ol' man- so he made a few bombs- :B I'll tell you why I wasnt too perturbed- I am from a particularly inflammatory part of U.P., and I've grown up watching lawlessness- so too scarred to be impacted much I guess :)

I saw Rajeev's TV show once- for 5 minutes- all the cheese and sugar made me want to throw up, and kept me from Aamir.

theBollywoodFan said...

ROTFL, that's hilarious, Shweta! =) See, in my case, growing up around lawlessness (lived through my share, trust me) was all the more reason to be impacted negatively by more of the same lawlessness, just from a source that's supposed to represent the good guys!

I haven't seen any of Rajeev's TV shows, but now I'm not sure I want to! :)

theBollywoodFan said...

PS: Shweta, I enjoyed your review here.

Anonymous said...

Loved the song, Chakkar Ghumio. I've listened to it over and over. Just what I needed to lift the spirits during a difficult day. Thanks!

Filmi Girl said...

Now I think I need to re-watch Rang De Basanti before watching Aamir and A Wednesday...

The conclusion that I think got put forth rather well in Rang De Basanti was that we should be frustrated and take action against the things that we find injust in the ruling classes, but violence is the wrong way to do it. DJ & co. get punished for their actions - and we see that getting the message out in media will do more good than in killing one person in a corrupt system.

Or maybe that's just me... :D I was crying by that point in the movie and maybe was blinded by tears. ;P

ajnabi said...

Ack, these kind of morally ambivalent movies give me headaches. I was going to see A Wednesday just for Naseer but now I'm not so sure.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi all, and thank you for your comments!

Joss: Nothing quite like some good music after a stressful day, right?! Glad you liked the song. It's usage in the film is really quite good!

Filmi Girl: With you on the essential message behind the conclusion to Rang De Basanti. I think your take is more applicable to the film as well, not merely its end.

Speaking of the end, I wonder if it needed to be made more obvious, though. If tears get in the way enough to cloud judgment (it's election day, might as well use a term common in campaigns this season! :), one can see how that critical piece at the end can then be somewhat overlooked as the focal point of the conclusion. In that case, the message behind it can almost dangerously and easily be interpreted the other way, because the segments immediately prior are so overpowering, and are difficult to not be impressed by.

Hope you had an easy time at the polls! ;) I woke up too early today...almost zzz-ing through the day, LOL.

Anjabi: Both certainly induce their share of headaches! The actors in A Wednesday are all brilliant. If you're a big Naseer fan (it's hard not to be, the guy's a class act), it might be bittersweet, though, almost like it was with Aamir in Fanaa. Speaking of Naseer, he's in Maharathi this month (trailer in this post).


dunkdaft said...

I missed 'Aamir' two times when it was on air. But hey, u r not being kind to A wednesday. It is easily one of the Best Movie of 2008. Naseer, and everyone performed so well. Even dumbo Deepal Shaw is ACTING. Great script and direction. Easily 4.9 stars stuff.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Darshit: Everyone in A Wednesday was brilliant, I agree. From a filmmaking standpoint too, I think it is easily one of the best of the year. However, the end to the script was just so wrong (I cannot think of a better word right now, LOL), I really have a hard time treating my view of the film independent of it. I know it's not the more commonly held view, but it truly bothers me for more than just selfish reasons.

Deepal Shaw was actually pretty good as the dumb reporter who couldn't think for anyone but herself initially. My favorite filmy reporter is Dia Mirza though -- she was excellent in 'Shootout at Lokhandwala' and 'Krazzy 4', in which she reminded me of April from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! =)

Cheers! And thanks for stopping by, dude.

dunkdaft said...

Hey, April.
You reminded me of my childhood days. thanx buddy.

theBollywoodFan said...

April will always be our most well-liked news reporter of all time! :) Have you seen the new Ninja Turtles movie (from last year)?

Jugal said...

:) I quite liked both the films from the sheer point of view that Indian cinema is changing and for the better. In the Aamir sound track, I like Haara a lot more than any other :)

I quite liked the Anupam Kher-Naseerudin Shah chemistry. I think you're being unfair with the 2.75 rating just because you kinda disagree with their point of view :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Jugal: Thank you for stopping by. I hear you man! I agree Indian cinema's been changing, surely a lot more so this decade than the last couple.

Haara in 'Aamir' is a great song. And Naseeruddin and Anupam in 'A Wednesday' were just excellent. There are very few who can pull off what they did. My 2.75 rating is for its music, and the movie I left as 'unrated' because as you say, a strong bias would be inherent in my views...which doesn't necessarily mean I'd rate it better either :P Oh well.

Point is, given it's bothered me enough, it's probably succeeded in what it set out to accomplish. Manipulative cinema at its finest, perhaps? :)


Anonymous said...

Didn't watch A Wednesday. Thought Aamir was good, though I had a bit of a problem with the ending. Glad I watched it though since Ek Lau was that much more powerful - as you said, haunting.
I enjoy reading your reviews - hope to see the ones for Luck by Chance and Billu Barber soon.

theBollywoodFan said...

I have mixed feelings about the ending to Aamir, although from the standpoint of the problem in the film, there might not have been a solution that guaranteed results as this did. I'm hoping to see Luck By Chance next weekend. Thank you for your comment, Anonymous!

Anonymous said...

Adab Nawab!
Thanks for alerting me to this post! As usual great write up. I must haved missed this when you first wrote it thinking it was about that other Aamir. After (if I do) see A Wednesday, I'll check back in. Glad you liked the music from the film too.
All the best!

theBollywoodFan said...

Adab Sita-ji, and thanks for your visit and comment. Good luck with A Wednesday...I remember we talked about it at some point last fall, and would be curious to know your take.

I must haved missed this when you first wrote it thinking it was about that other Aamir.ROTFL. I hope you're only kidding. Nothing quite as dramatic as something involving Karan Johar :P