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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



A Thursday, Review: For whom the mobile rings

A Thursday, Review: For whom the mobile rings

Make a hostage-taker your protagonist, pit her against the country’s police force and even the Prime Minister, cash-in on the title of a rivetting thriller called A Wednesday (2008), moving it a day further, create the ambience of a cat and mouse game in the thriller genre, and you have A Thursday. While the idea of holding hostages and making demands from the police force are common factors, this latter day ‘avtaar’, in which the lead actor demands a visitation from no less a person than the woman Prime Minister, is no patch on the original, made 14 years ago. A Wednesday justifies its title by beginning with a retired police officer reminiscing about events that had occurred on a Wednesday, the present outing brings in the title towards the very end, merely in passing. As a film, judged entirely on its own merits, the film is merely passable fare.

A child-loving play-school teacher, Naina Jaiswal, returns from a three-week leave and resumes duties. She shares her birthday with one of the 16 kids in the school, and plans to celebrate it that very day, although it falls on the next day, because the next day is a holiday. Before you can say Jack and Jill…, she has taken the entire class hostage, along with a driver, who brought the ordered cake, and the school’s maid. Her first demand is to meet Inspector Javed Khan, an encounter specialist. She threatens to kill a child if her demand is not met, and Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Catherine Alvares, who is in an advanced state of pregnancy, and yet on duty at the spot, obliges, by summoning him. He is not too happy, having killed somebody in an encounter late at night and then being fast asleep when the call comes.

There is a Naina connection with Javed Khan, as we learn later. It’s a rainy night, with the police out in force, to keep the children’s parents, media units and curious public at bay. Their Anti-Terrorist Squad tries to storm the school, only to be greeted by gunshots and a video on social media, showing that she has killed one of the children, in retaliation. Naina has cashes in on social media, and her videos have gone viral. One particular TV channel makes it a real big story, because the trapped children include a child of their star anchor. And Naina’s demands keep increasing. They include the arrest of two notorious men named Rakesh Mathur and Pooran. Finally, she makes the demand that shakes-up the whole country: She wants the Prime Minister to visit her in the school and have a conversation. The PM faces a dilemma. It is an election year, and she does not want to show that she is weak, by giving in to the woman’s demands. At the same time, she cannot possibly let Naina kill 16 children and two other hostages, in cold blood, while she stands her ground. That would tarnish her image as a compassionate PM.

Credited to director Behzad Khambata (sound engineer-turned assistant director; Associate Director, Azhar; wrote and directed his first feature, Blank) and Ashley Lobo (debutant writer), the script has a skeleton all right, but all the body parts are disproportionate, while, in addition, there is a hiatus every few inches. Which police force would send an ACP in an advanced state of pregnancy, on a stormy, rainy night on assignment like this? Khan, reputedly a crack cop, does pretty little except light and extinguish cigarettes and shout inanities at everyone, including his boss, the ACP.

It is never explained where did Naina pick-up her gun, bullet cartridges, shooting skills and grappling combat proficiency. In fact, how and when did the genial, doting young woman become a hardened ‘criminal’ is something the film chooses to ignore completely. The children carry on watching cartoon films and doing whatever the teacher says, for several hours after school ends for the day, without so much as a murmur, although they all appear to be in the age group of 3-4. This is highly unlikely, with boys and girls that age. Naina does emerge from the locked doors and takes a few shots at the armoured police, who are unable to get her at that golden opportunity. Some sharpshooters, these! The loopholes carry on appearing right till the climax, but I do not want to add any spoilers to this review.

Ploys and tropes are used in abundance. Why have one hostage? Why not 18? And why have grown-ups? Children draw the maximum sympathy. Then again, why avoid adults? So, bring in a man hostage. But that would still leave out women, so get a woman too. And why settle for petty demands, when you can have the Prime Minister at your feet, helpless against the school teacher who is probably as much ‘popular’, or viral, on social media, as she is at this point of time. Throw in some red herrings, in the shape of Naina’s fiancé, her ‘missing’ mother, the two men she wants arrested and the TV anchor, who seems to be involved in some way. The whole country is scratching its head, “What does she want? What does she really, really want?” Well, you will get that answer if you watch the film, where the script does take a few right turns in the second half. Incidentally, Vijay Maurya’s dialogue is peppered with expletives, but the Naina refrain, “Phirsey boloon?” could capture the fancy of audiences.

Concentrating on trivialities, like the police bandobast, the barricading, the exchanges between Alvares and Khan, the conversations between the PM and her ministerial colleagues and aides, director Behzad Khambata invests too much time in non-performing shares. Mere physical movement and posturing do not generate pace or create the thrills, you need find more potent ways of telling a thriller tale. A rainy afternoon is okay if it contributes to the plot development. Here, it doesn’t.

Casting could have been better, though two female actors manage to keep the film afloat. Except for the back-story of the protagonist, which is the very basis of the film, no other character is given that privilege. We get fleeting references to and glimpses of Javed’s past, the fiancés profession and his father, the maid’s drunkard husband, the TV channel’s lecherous boss, etc., but nothing really substantial enough to take you in that direction. A token clap-trap exchange is offered to Khan, but it rings hollow. Considering this is his third foray, more was expected of Khambata. He manages to build up a decent amount of suspense initially, but the denouement needed to be much stronger in order to leave you convinced and satisfied. As it stands, the climax, which has one real, sudden twist, is a bit of a let-down.

Yami Gautam (Vicky Donor, Uri: The Surgical, Kaabil, Badlapur, Bala, Ginny Weds Sunny), billed as Yami Gautam Dhar after her marriage to Aditya Dhar last year, has a lot of weight on her shoulders, as the protagonist, and she puts in a powerful performance. The range of emotions, helped with camera effects and varying length close-ups, are well executed. Hers is easily the best performance in the film. But hold on a moment! In what is credited as a Special Appearance, Dimple Kapadia, playing the Prime Minister is such a natural. How well has she matured with age and experience! Atul Kulkarni is wasted as Javed Khan, and appears a caricature of himself. He also looks haggard, but that might be partly excused in view of his character’s rough and tough lifestyle. Neha Dhupia is a powerhouse too, sadly limited by the way her part is written, with no real scene, not even one, to prove her mettle. Undistinguished support comes from Maya Sarao as the main News Anchor, Karanvir Sharma as Rohit Mirchandani, the fiancé, Raj Sharma as the Home Minister, Rajeev Singh as a News Anchor and Shadab as another News anchor. Unfortunately, one could not identify the actor who is cast as the antagonist, but he has done a good job. Kalyanee Mulay as the maid is convincing and competent.

As many as 12 producers and creative producers have joined hands to create A Thursday. Music by Kaizad Gherda propels the film in the desired direction. Cinematography by Anuj Rakesh Dhawan and Siddharth Vasani is competent, yet undistinguished. Film Editing by Sumeet Kotian  does create some level of tension, to match the on-screen developments. Since the climax does not reveal all, one thinks another five minutes of explantory back-story were needed to make the film holistic. And, I am sure I have not heard the mobile phone ringing and being used so many times in any other film as in A Thursday. That must be a record. Lastly, A Thursday is not one step ahead of A Wednesday, rather, a step behind.

Rating: **



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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