Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Two old men and a Wednesday

When two ageing actors - albeit not of the superstar variety - keep you glued to your seats in the cinema hall without the customary musical interlude, you know the movie has clicked with the audience – and for a change, you don’t need the reassuring statistics of the elusive box office to prove that.

A Wednesday aerates you with freshly infused hope in the vitality of Indian cinema. The story leaves few glaring gaps that highlight the far-fetched story line – hurried attempt at simulating the Die-Hard-like finesse, the common man's ridiculously easy access to RDX in the city, a single television crew covering the whole event end-to-end, being only three of them - but the novelty of the script and the power of the cast turn your attention away from this post mortem. More than anything else, this film is a glowing tribute to two of the best actors India has ever produced. Both Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah prove that lost time has not pushed them past their prime.

The story is simple and told in a matter-of-fact style, so apt for the genre. A common man, refusing to come to terms with an imposed life of continued terror, schemes an uncommon plot that underlines the impotence of the whole system fighting terrorism, police included.

He kicks off his vendetta in the language of terror through an ultimatum to the commissioner of police – release four dreaded terrorists held captive or else see Mumbai go up in flames. As proof of concept, a bomb waiting to be diffused (or is it a bag of RDX) already waits in the station urinal opposite the Police headquarters – a feat that the protagonist accomplishes amidst the chaos of day-to-day police public interaction.

The events that follow tell a story of unique individual daredevilry that is as inspiring as it is unconvincing. The latter is condoned by the inimitable competence of Naseeruddin Shah who knows how to strike gold, whatever the mine field. As the anonymous bomber, he does an amazing tight rope walk – his dialogue delivery packs a neat punch or two but is always in line with the anguish and wherewithal of a common man.

Kher as the upright, nonchalant super cop is superlative – his gestures, walk and mannerisms all breathing a top cop. His dignified demeanor makes you yearn to see him don a similar role in real life, such has been the impact.

He leaves no stone unturned to relish the opportunity that has come his way after an extended string of mindless performances. Both actors, like several of their well meaning counterparts, have long been pendulums swinging between two extremes - On one hand was the mainstream world that reduced them to caricatures for a decent ransom. On the other, was the so-called offbeat tribe – which owned them as intellectual bonded labour for cheap imitations of Rays, Ghataks and Adoors.

Films like Aamir, Khuda Ke Liye and A Wednesday spell good news for these actors and audiences alike – Better late than never!

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