For those of you who might pick DisneyPlus Hotstar to watch A Thursday this week, hoping for it to be a sequel to the 2008 crime-thriller A Wednesday, I would urge you to stop right there. Besides protagonists acting out as vigilantes under the disguise of being ‘system ke shikaar’, the two films have no similarities. The disappointment in India’sjudicial system propelled Naseeruddin Shah’s common man to take the law into his hands in the 2008 movie, but Yami Gautam Dhar’s Naina Jaiswal has a personal stake in the matter.
Naina, a teacher at a playschool situated in a posh locality in South Mumbai, holds 16 students hostage (and a driver and domestic worker), demanding to meet the Prime Minister face-to-face. But well, you already know that even if you have just watched the trailer!
Few hits, many misses
When Naina enters the scene, resuming duty after nearly two-week-long sick leave, everyone she meets, from the parents to children, is elated to have her back. She is the Bollywood template of the ‘perfect’ teacher who remembers the birthdays of all children and is unanimously loved. Until she quickly shifts gears, informs the police and announces on social media about the hostage situation. It is as if director Behzad Khambata does not trust the audience to understand this ‘drastic’ shift in Naina’s personality. Hence there is the loud, ominous score, crazy eyes, and extra-zoom shots (each time she makes some out-of-character choice).
Barring the on-the-nose technical choices, one does get drawn into the drama, wondering what makes ‘Ms Goody two shoes’ turn into ‘Cruella of Colaba’. Some of the scenes are also beautifully shot such as the physical tussle between two key characters as Rock-a-Bye-Baby plays in the background or the one where the children sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with their eyes shut as Naina circles around them, holding a gun in her hand. But too many cooks spoil the broth! Some of the supporting characters, such as Neha Dhupia’s pregnant cop, Maya Sarao’s TRP-hungry news anchor, and a bunch of ‘anxious’ parents, seem out of place and clueless in the larger scheme of things.
From playing second fiddle to the ‘hero’ in films like Vicky Donor, Badlapur, Kaabil to now being protagonist (also the antagonist in equal measure), Yami comes into her own in A Thursday. If only the screenplay and dialogues would have done justice to her solid performance.
Simplistic solutions to complex issues
During the last 20 minutes of the film, as Naina sits across the prime minister (played by Dimple Kapadia) and her motive behind the hostage is revealed, she says, “Iss desh mein log jaan bujh ke behere bane ghumte hai. Jab tak kaan mein na cheekho, kisi ki gardan nahi mudti (People in this country pretend to be deaf. Unless you yell in their ears, they will not turn to you)” Her angst against the lack of effective action is believable, and as an actor, Yami is every bit convincing. However, it is too little too late to save the film.
While her grouse is personal and her methods questionable, director Khambata absolves her of any accountability, rather she emerges as a hero. Spoiler alert — Naina demands capital punishment for rape, shoots her rapist while also demanding crores of rupees as ransom only to donate it to NGOs for rape victims. As you empathise with her trauma, you are left questioning her methods too. Is she dangerous or harmless? Is she righteous or extremist? One hardly gets to understand.
The social commentary is commendable but it comes in too late, and the film provides simplistic solutions to a complex issue. Is death penalty really the answer to sexual violence, rape, and assault against women? The answer is not that simple. A Thursday does lay bare the flaws in the system, be it the law, media, or public, but it hesitates to get its hands dirty with the complexity of the matter. Vigilante justice, as the film advocates, is not a sustainable course of action.
Besides Yami and Kapadia’s watchable performances, Atul Kulkarni who plays Javed Khan, the presiding officer in the case, comes across as humbling and strong in parts but, perhaps, influenced by the stereotypical characters around, also overacts.
A Thursday conveniently swings around logic and realism to pander to a vision it has built for itself. At the end of two-hour and nine minutes, I am not sure what it is.