Wednesday: Cinematic Politics
By Kamal Mohammad
They don’t know it, but they are doing it”: the most elementary definition of Ideology from Marx’s Capital. He describes a situation in which acts are committed in society without knowing the inherent meaning of the Ideology that precipitated them. Here the concept of ideology implies the misrecognition of its own presuppositions, a divergence/contradiction between social reality and our distorted representation, our false or mistaken consciousness of that reality. Eventually this becomes society’s “naïve consciousness”.
A Wednesday is a film like that, embedded in misrecognition. A film which is unknowingly dangerous but surprisingly well-appreciated all over. It was celebrated as a patriotic, serious non-Bollywood drama with a sense of realism by some of India’s most well-known film critics. The film was applauded with four stars for its strong depiction of a “stupid common man who takes up Terror in his hands” — as the film’s screenplay describes it. Viewers were led to the theatres by playing on their prejudices, on false nationalism, under titles saying “It has got the power” and “The movie of cult status”. One is forced to suppose that here, as well, the critics were writing without understanding or appreciating the ideology of the film — the validation of random bomb blasts for a cause.
What does A Wednesday speak of, knowingly or unknowingly?
An anonymous self-styled common man, played by Naseeruddin Shah, calls up Mumbai’s police commissioner saying that he has planted bombs in various parts of the city. He demands the release of four terrorists, making the police get the terrorists to a particular place. The police later realise that the man wanted to kill all the terrorists using the same bomb they had used for their ideological war. The man kills the terrorists and he forces the police to conduct a fake encounter to kill the last man in the group. At the end of the film, the police commissioner goes and meets the man to congratulate him for this act. Twice the police commissioner asks the name of the man behind this individual terror plot. The first time the man himself hides it; the second time the police commissioner hides it from the viewers.
What is the meaning of the anonymity of Naseeruddin Shah’s character? He can naturally be Hindu or Muslim. He ferociously argues against “the cockroaches in the house”. Who are the cockroaches that he wants to expunge from the system? The terrorists can be named, or pointed out individually, in the film, so it doesn’t seem to apply to them. But the man generalises, saying “cockroaches”. As he is fluent in Urdu, he can be a Muslim also. Again, in this case we have an anonymous attacker, as in any bomb blast. But the target is not anonymous. It has a face; it has a faith beyond its identification as terrorists. Thus it beautifully builds the identity of the Muslim as “the other”. On the whole, it appreciates and propagates the act of terror in anonymity by any religion or nationality.
It idealises the man’s motive, encouraging the belief that every man is a potential terrorist. By antagonising the common viewer against a particular social group, this film also fixes a stereotype — as in any mainstream Indian film dealing with terrorism. Most successful films of the sort, from Roja, to Gaddar, validated Muslim-bashing. It is not something. Most popular cinema has been naïve in its comprehension of social realities; but how can this film not be considered dangerous, propagating violence and terrorism of the same kind? How can the same film be featured in the media as the most powerful film of the year?
Perhaps the critics believe the usual argument of the power of catharsis, which validates the moral obscenity of any work. Have they thought about the cathartic reaction the film makes in a viewer who really appreciates this? Do we need such divisive discourse at a time this sensitive?
In the context of this film we have to analyse the function of a film critic also. Before they opinionate to others on the second day of any film’s release, they have the responsibility to talk about the content of the film. It does not need to be an ideological reading of the content, but if it is permeated with prejudice and dangerous undertones critics have the responsibility to at least mention it. Otherwise they should have the minimum courtesy to take back the “stars” they have presented to their ideological ignorance.
is a filmmaker
and executive producer of ‘Tahaan’. He can be reached
This article was first published in the Indian Express.