The film A Wednesday raises disquieting questions about our response to Terrorism

 

Joya John reviews in context of the Mumbai Terror attacks

 

A Still from 'A Wednesday'

The film, “A Wednesday”, had a quiet release in October and seemed to go down well with select audiences. With the recent terror attacks on Mumbai, a discussion on the film becomes pertinent and necessary.  Naseeruddin Shah, as the “stupid common man”, takes matters into his own hands and decides to, in his words, clean up his ‘home’ (country) of the cockroachs(terrorists) that have entered it. The anonymous  terrorist, often indistinguishable from the common man, is mirrored in Shah’s character, who , diminutive and frail, enters innocuously  into the police headquarters to plant a bomb. He  goes on to plant bombs at strategic locations in the city and holds the police department to ransom until his demand of bumping off four notorious terrorists is not met. In his final speech when Shah speaks to Anupam Kher, a representative of the police, he explains why he takes this drastic step. Shah’s character refuses to reveal his identity saying that he doesn’t want to be indentified with any community. Shah’s grouse is predictable—what are the politicians, the police and the state doing when the “common man” finds himself on the receiving end of terror attacks? The film’s attempt to present a ‘secular’ response to terrorism using the  everyman figure of Shah is however troubling.

Shah’s complaint resonates with a lot of what we have heard in the news following the Mumbai attacks. The system, be it politicians or the police, has been the common flogging horse of the media and ‘citizen’ responses. But it would be a mistake to see these critiques as a genuine critique of political status quo-- in that it is often enough a plea for more government, more control and more policing--- something governments want to do anyway. The voice of the common man we hear through Shah is actually a ruse for more power to be invested in governments. While returning by train from Mumbai, I overheard a group of young men, residents of Mumbai, discussing how the police should be disbanded and the army brought in to run civil spaces. Armed commandos with sten guns are received as a welcome sight in Mumbai.

So why would it be so bad, if one can be safer by it? That’s the problem. When Shah spells out the names of four terrorists, it seems we have clearly identifiable enemies. Enemies that we can have a consensus about. When he calls them cockroaches their very existence seems immaterial. This article is not a ‘soppy’ account of the humanity of the terrorist. No. But it is worth considering who can become a nuisance and when. States, backed by enlightened public opinion, have been known to exterminate entire peoples.

The “stupid common man”, portrayed by Shah is not jingoist in the way more militant nationalisms often are. However the event of terrorism generates an excess no liberal –minded response to it can control-unless it questions the category of nationalism itself. My very ‘common’ maid can still  blame the muslims for the attack. There is no unmarked common man on the ground. The public or the aam admi is always marked by gender, class, region, caste and religion. The rhetoric of ‘common’ people can only elide these differences.

For sometime now in cinema halls across Mumbai, film goers have to stand at attention before every show while the national anthem is sung. It demonstrates some levels of paranoia that would require that we reaffirm our loyalty to a nation come what may. The terrorists don’t want any different. They want to consolidate hatred and with a film like Wednesday- they have won.

 

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