Three films, three shades of terrorism

Sep 16, 2008 Subhash K Jha

Mumbai, Sep 16 (IANS) Three films and three different perspectives on the same theme, last week's releases "Hijack", "A Wednesday" and "Tahaan", were portraits in contrasting shades of identical themes. All three dealt with different facets of terrorism, and had a slick spin to offer.

Of course the spin got more slick in "Hijack", a tacky take on Hollywood terrorists with Shiney Ahuja playing the larger-than-life, pilot-turned-ground-engineer who sneaks into a hijacked plane and rescues the hapless passengers.

Neeraj Pandey's "A Wednesday" is very American in format and style of storytelling, while Santosh Sivan's "Tahaan" is more Iranian in tone and texture. It's a film that must be seen for its exceptional lyricism.

Not all cinematographers-turned-directors are able to balance out visual and emotional beauty. Poor Anil Mehta made "Aaja Nachle" and entrusted the task of cinematography to a colleague so he could focus on the direction.

But Santosh wouldn't hand over the director of photography's job to anyone. To him the camera and the directorial vision are yoked. "Tahaan" is as stunning from the inside as it is on the surface.

A colleague complained it was 'slow'. Movement, brisk or otherwise, is for locomotives, not motion pictures.

One aspect of Hindi cinema's current tryst with terrorism that invites attention is the sheer volume of "action" that underlines the drama. Characters somersault nimbly into the horizon to beat the baddies. And you wonder if terrorists are the latest villains in masala kingdom after smugglers, rapists and politicians.

Let's not get carried away. No need to reduce terrorism to a formula specially when the films on the theme are not doing well. What we get finally in these films is a fine gallery of performances.

"Tahaan" has not just the wizkid Purav Bhandare but Anupam Kher, Rahul Bose, Victor Banerjee and Sarika.

Effortlessly Anupam Kher went from playing the urbanised jaded cop in "A Wednesday" to the rural Kashmiri merchant in "Tahaan" on the same Friday.

But the strong week at the movies belonged to Naseeruddin Shah. As the working class could-be bomber in "A Wednesday", he reminded me of Michael Douglas in "Fallen". But he was far more controlled. Douglas had gone berserk in the loathsome city with a baseball bat. Naseer did it with bombs.

One man against a merciless city is a theme that has fascinated our filmmakers forever. Naseer's character goes back to the Charles Bronson "Death Wish" series where the wronged man goes on a rampage against the scummy elements in the city.

The face of the villain has changed, but the vigilante's vendetta remains unchanged. The main reason why these films on terrorism don't appeal to as wide audiences as they should is their masculine vision.

None of these films has room for fleshed-out women characters. "Hijack" somehow squeezes in Esha Deol and Kaveri Jha - both of whom come and go in a rustle of delicacy during times of explosive exuberance.

In "A Wednesday", Naseeruddin Shah's wife is a voice on the phone. And in "Tahaan" Sarika isn't even that. She's mute.

Naseeruddin in "A Wednesday" is the star of the week - He's cool. He's crisp. He's articulate and fluent. And he's direct. Is there a better actor than Naseer in our country today?

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A Wednesday


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