Director: Behzad Khambata
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
Yami Gautam Dhar as a playschool teacher who holds her 16 students hostage is clever, counter-intuitive casting. The actor exudes a warmth and charm that makes the visual of her pointing a gun at kindergarten kids even more startling. Director Behzad Khambata who has co-written the script with Ashley Michael Lobo, sets her up as a horrifically unhinged criminal. Which is instantly intriguing. Eventually however, A Thursday chickens out and becomes a partially effective, rabble-rousing film which offers dangerous and simplistic solutions to our failed polity. Naina Jaswal, like so many cinematic vigilantes before her, is a 'system ka shikar.'
Just as Badhaai Do was a spiritual sequel to Badhaai Ho, A Thursday is a spiritual sequel to A Wednesday, Neeraj Pandey's high-adrenalin thriller about an ordinary man who sets an elaborate trap to kill terrorists. Aapke ghar mein cockroach aata hai toh aap kya karte hain, he says. Aap usko palte nahi, marte hain. He describes himself as 'just a stupid common man wanting to clean his house.' Naina's fight is a little more personal. In both films, there is dialogue about whether the law-breaking methods that the lead characters adopt are sahi ya galat. But that's just lip service. Both films position criminals as heroes.
While A Wednesday presents an overwhelmingly male world, in A Thursday, the key characters are female. Apart from Naina, Neha Dhupia plays the heavily pregnant cop Catherine Alvarez, Maya Sarao is Shalini, a television anchor and Dimple Kapadia is the Indian prime minister, Maya Rajguru. Dimple, elegant and authoritarian in a silk sari, gets a solid moment in which she firmly puts into place an advisor who dared to suggest that she is being emotional because she is a woman. The most prominent male in the scenario is Atul Kulkarni as supercop Javed Khan who like Commissioner Prakash Rathod in A Wednesday, becomes the negotiator and confidant for Naina.
The most critical aspect of these movies is that the storytelling needs to be so gripping that viewers don't ask questions about logic and plausibility. A Wednesday succeeded in doing that. Also, Naseeruddin Shah was formidable as the regular Joe who decides that enough is enough. His performance, especially in the climactic speech, imbued the far-fetched scenario with gravitas. Behzad creates a set-up with potential but you never lose sight of the football-sized loopholes. And the director's button pushing is far more obvious than Neeraj's.
A Thursday is too afraid to make Naina actually dangerous or even unlikeable. Until she goes rogue, she is overwhelmingly loved by both, parents and kids. She's the type of teacher who remembers every child's birthday. The children aren't fleshed out in any meaningful way. They are uniformly adorable props used to wring your heart out. The background music by Roshan Dalal and Kaizad Gherda is insistently loud. And the acting is over-wrought. Even the usually understated Atul gives in to exaggerated expressions Though some of his lines – the dialogue is by Vijay Maurya – land a solid punch.
Yami becomes more sure-footed as the story unfolds. In the first hour, her sinister act comes off as forced – she widens her eyes to appear bad but slowly, she finds her groove. Her climactic face-off with the PM is one of the best scenes in the film. The scars in Naina's psyche are revealed and the emotion in the moment overrides the logic. We know that this can't happen and yet we are moved. A Thursday has stray moments like these that make you sit up and take notice. But mostly the film lurches about without enough focus. The screenplay attempts to reveal the rot in the system – everyone from the cops to media to bureaucrats and the public hungrily consuming the drama on social media is indicted. But the writing doesn't have the sharpness or complexity that this required. The takedown of the media is especially feeble. Clearly television anchors and their bosses are Bollywood's new favorite villains – remember Dhamaka? Here the boss exploits his anchor's terrible predicament for TRPs.
After A Wednesday and A Thursday, can we expect A Friday in which yet another disgruntled citizen will pick up arms? I'm not sure that the formula is elastic enough to sustain a franchise. This 'maut ka khel', as a character describes it, can only go so far.
You can watch A Thursday on DisneyPlus Hotstar