Director: Behzad Kambata
Writers: Ashley Michael Lobo, Behzad Kambata, Vijay Maurya
Cast: Yami Gautam Dhar, Atul Kulkarni, Neha Dhupia
Cinematographer: Anuja Rakesh Dhawan, Siddharth Vasani
Editor: Sumeet Kotian
Streaming on: DisneyPlus Hotstar
If you really think about it, A Wednesday! (2008) is about a bored neighbourhood uncle who treats the Mumbai police force as his Twitter wall. If social media was as effective as it is today, Naseeruddin Shah’s “common man” would have written long and opinionated threads about a failing system and rising terrorism. Right-wing Twitter might have hailed him as a cult hero, too. A Thursday extends the social-message-drama-parading-as-hostage-thriller template by pivoting to the rage of a common woman. The difference: Her stakes are personal, and social media is a central character.
Naina Jaiswal (Yami Gautam), a Colaba play-school teacher, takes her own tiny students hostage, alerts the cops, posts her demands as Instagram stories and broadcasts her threats to the entire country. Millennials have no chill. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why she’s doing the whole thing. The design is far from subtle: Apart from Naina, the Prime Minister (Dimple Kapadia) is a woman, the news anchor (Maya Sarao) is a woman, and one of the two cops in charge (Neha Dhupia of course) is a pregnant woman. This is vigilante justice fetishized into a gender statement.
A Thursday is as reductive as they come. Of its many problems, the most grating one is that the makers still think this is a novel narrative. By virtue of it being a spiritual sequel, we already know that Naina has an ulterior motive. We know she wouldn’t harm the oblivious kids. Yet she is initially presented as a psychotic villain – complete with funky camerawork, crazy eyes and an ominous score. Why? We may have been in the dark about Naseeruddin Shah in A Wednesday! till the end, but A Thursday is blatant in its trickery. It doesn’t help that the climactic monologue is not half as convincing; Shah’s genius could have convinced us that Russia created the Covid-19 virus to mess with China. Then there is this film’s simplistic button-pushing. Once Naina reveals her truth, the film leaves no stone unturned to suggest that her “method” is the best solution. Everyone suddenly looks at her differently, including the terrorized parents who feared the worst for their children. That’s not how human psychology works. The gaze is so naive that the entire country is transformed – bringing to mind the Mumbai-as-Shanghai final shot of Shankar’s criminally entertaining Nayak – by the time she’s done.
Then there are the red herrings. Naina is a Hindu, Dhupia’s Cathy is catholic, and Atul Kulkarni’s angsty cop Javed is a Muslim – a setting that’s supposed to democratize the nature of trauma. It’s too on-the-nose, just like Naina’s opening scene where she’s introduced as the world’s nicest play-school teacher with a random Mary-Poppins-esque musical interlude. Or the scenes where Javed goes unhinged for the sake of tense comic relief. For a supercop, he isn’t very good at his job. At one point, I’m pretty sure that the film hints that Cathy and Javed were once married – or maybe I imagined it all, because this adds absolutely nothing to a plot centered on Naina’s life. Eventually, the film succumbs to the same retro-Bollywood tropes it sets out to humanize. “Do not underestimate a tech-savvy wronged woman” is no different from the worldview driving feminist films of yore like Anjaam and Khoon Bhari Maang. And as far as ‘noble’ hostage thrillers are concerned, not even Jodie Foster’s Money Monster – starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts as financial TV hosts hijacked by an irate investor – could cut it. Maya Sarao’s news anchor character here is in her own Dhamaka, another film that proves the ideological fragility of this genre.
Yami Gautam Dhar has come a long way from being Hindi cinema’s favourite slain lover (that title now belongs to Mrunal Thakur). Here she threatens to slay, but the reverse-engineered wokeness of the film reduces her to a cool concept rather than an actual person. It’s always nice to see Atul Kulkarni ham it up as a man frustrated with the incompetence of his surroundings, though Neha Dhupia appears to have walked in from the sets of Sanak as the ACP hiding her ineptness behind a veil of crude girl-boss hashtags. Dimple Kapadia is too good for this film, and one can see shades of what she might accomplish in a long-form series about an emotional politician.
In other words, A Thursday is yet another lazy and rabble-rousing iteration of a complicated issue. I’m worried now. A Friday – a thriller about a frustrated corporate employee who takes a bus hostage once his work-from-home setup is revoked – is just around the corner.