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*):
- 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?
- 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?
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
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!