Harder clampdown on terrorism needed: Neeraj Pandey

Writer-Director Neeraj Pandey talks about his recent release A WEDNESDAY in an e-mail interview conducted by HemRaj Singh

Q.1. Naseer’s character is a way too competent, sophisticated and sharp for his projected setting. A common man does not have the competence to put together a bomb despite all the information available. To design a software program to deal with multiple SIMs to generate multiple-location calls is not a child’s play. And the movie doesn’t put Naseer’s character against a plausible background either. So characterization seems to be a weakness. Your comments?

I beg to differ. A common man does have the competence. we are capable of some very uncommon things.

Q.2. Similarly, Indian police in the movie appears to be as efficient as the Hollywood FBI. And with Hollywood FBI itself being a flattering exaggeration of the real FBI, the police in ‘A Wednesday’ appear thrice removed from their real versions. Portrayal of Naseer’s character and Indian police suggests that you took ‘suspension of disbelief’ a little too far. Comment?

It is a movie. The essence of the film lies in Naseer’s monologue.

” ‘Suspension of disbelief’ “- Really ?

Q.3. The movie suggests strong-arm methods to deal with terrorism. Do you think terrorism could not be uprooted because enough force was not applied?

Absolutely.

Q.4. Do you see terrorism as a criminal-justice issue, as the movie seems to suggest?

Yes.

Q.5. Do you feel a harder clampdown on terrorism would help?

Yes.

Q.6. Is eliminating terrorists without holding trials part of your solution?

No.

Q.7. Who is your ‘common man’? Isn’t the ‘common man’ in ‘A Wednesday’ essentially a Hindu?

No. I do not know the man’s religion.

Q.8. Fear is the central theme of the movie. Are terrorists fear or do they themselves fear, which is why they are terrorists?

Won’t know.

Q.9. Do you think we need stricter laws to deal with terrorism?

Yes.

Q.11. Do you think police should be vested with better and wider powers and discretion to deal with terrorists?

Absolutely.

Q.12. Do you think the process of law helps the terrorists get away?

Sometimes.

Q.13. Do you think it’s time for us to enact an anti-terrorism law like TADA and POTA?

Sorry. I dont know these laws in full detail hence it would be wrong to comment.

Q.14. Do you see a marked difference between international terrorism and its Indian version?

I didn’t know they came in two versions.

Published in LAWYERS UPDATE (October 2008 issue) with the review (Legal Scanner ) of the movie in question. Reproduced as published.

This is one of the very few (not more than a couple or so) interviews that Neeraj Pandey gave to the media after the release of ‘A Wednesday’ despite all the hype about the movie.

Advertisements

A Wednesday: Naivety writ large

All style, no substance. That’ what A Wednesday is. It has the captivating speed, taut packaging and a very sleek, elegant look. But scratch the glossy surface, and the veneer of realism gives way to reveal a flimsy fantasy tale much in the league of Harry potter and Lord of the Rings. The only difference is that both of the hugely successful fantasy series have their internal logic intact. A Wednesday asks you to step inside the theatre and have no recollection of the way the world works outside. Not just that; you are also supposed to believe all that the director asks you to believe. In other words, he needs a complete suspension of disbelief, and would still ask rather innocently, “Suspension of disbelief – Really?” (See the interview).

The movie starts with a pensive Police Commissioner sitting by the seaside reflecting back upon his life as the top cop of Mumbai and recalling the most interesting case of his entire career. It’s a case that has no record anywhere except in his memory. The statement underlining the lack of record is hammered home twice – once in the opening sequence and later towards the end. And the case that has no record is the one in which one man holds the whole of Mumbai, the Police Commissioner chooses to call in the Chief Minister, the terrorists belonging to organized such dreaded terror groups like Al-Qaueda and Laskar-E-Taiba are forced to be released and are later blown to bits. And all of this is covered live by a television channel. But still there is no record of the case. The Police Commissioner hands over the transfer orders of the jailed terrorists to the officers entrusted with executing the transfer. But there is no record of the case. The jail authorities hand over the prisoners, and there is still no record of the case. Irrespective of whether the terrorists are undertrial detainees or convicted felons, to release such dangerous elements the jail authorities would demand an express permission in writing from the Home Ministry itself. And nothing less would do because if they settled for anything less, the courts would ensure that none of the jail authorities together with the Police Commissioner actually ‘retired’. They would end up being dismissed without pension. But there is still no record. And director Pandey insists that it’s no ‘suspension of disbelief’. Very well.

And then there is this projected layman who proudly calls himself ‘a stupid common man’. This fellow has the resources and connections to procure RDX and also the technical competence to use it for remote-controlled bombing. Explaining it, the protagonist, brilliantly played by Naseeruddin Shah, says that there are hundreds of websites on the internet to assist a bomb-maker and that even detergent cake is a potential bomb. Well, every single atom around us is a potential atom bomb. Knowledge is not enough. But then, Neeraj Pandey’s ‘common man’ is so extraordinarily uncommon and his ‘stupidity’ dazzlingly well-thought and meticulously executed. But that’s absolutely nothing compared to the far greater liberties the director takes with the reality of our times.

The way the movie treats and looks at terrorism is criminally innocent. Terrorism is certainly not a law and order or criminal justice problem like organized crime or drug trafficking, which is why the solution does not lie in the application of brute force. And using the same methods to deal with terrorism as used against regular crimes and criminals is like subjecting a patient to blind treatment with wrong drugs without proper diagnosis. And A Wednesday prescribes a quack’s medicine for a highly complex and lethal affliction that is in dire need of a systematic and phased treatment.

Terrorism is a multifaceted, multilayered, hydra-headed monster that draws its lifeblood from local socio-political reality viewed against the national and international backdrop. Mindless use of force is not the solution but part of the problem. The movie stubbornly refuses to delve any deeper than the cutting edge of the sword. Its awareness is limited to the damage done by the slashing sword, the open wound and the consequent fear. And it seeks only to deal with the edge of the sword without even looking at the hand that holds it or the motives that drive the hand. Deterrent force is the movie’s answer to terror attacks. Wrong answer. Deterrence works best against those conventional crimes that have money and greed at the core. But when it’s about honour, justice, or religious, political or cultural identity, the use of deterrence force can only add fuel to fire. In such situations a clampdown is likely to be seen as a tyrant’s attempt to stomp out rebellion. When state moves swift and hard using disproportionate force to strike out an uncomfortable uprising, it looks fearful, out of control and weak not only to the enemy but also to its own people. Force, therefore, is certainly not the answer. And we know it from experience.

But writer-director Neeraj Pandey takes no lessons and prescribes poison for a cure. A Wednesday appeared so astonishingly naïve in its understanding of terrorism that I took the unprecedented step of asking Mr. Pandey if he really meant what his movie appeared to convey. And in an e-mail interview, through his very brief responses, he confirmed that he saw terrorism as a criminal-justice problem and to his mind a harder clampdown was needed.

What greater force can there be than that used in Afghanistan? And how much more powerful could one be than the world’s mightiest superpower? Besides, India doesn’t have it as easy as the US had. The US is battling an external enemy while we have our own turned against us. The US is paying the price of its shortsighted foreign policies whereas we have our internal, communal politics to blame. They bred them outside, we did it in-house. And if blowing the enemy is the solution, they’ll have ‘explosions’ and we ‘implosions’. So, if we go after this phantom enemy and kill it, the ‘difference’ would be the same as between ‘murder’ and ‘suicide’. Any clearer, Mr. Pandey?

Written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE as Legal Scanner (October 2008 issue)

Reviewing ‘A Wednesday’

Having decided to do a legal review of A Wednesday, I settled in comfortably with a chicken burger and coke (the dinner that day) at PVR Saket. To my mind Naseeruddin Shah was the high point of the movie, and he was enough reason for me to sit through the movie. I had seen the trailer. Terrorism being the central theme, I decided to do a legal review. I expected a clean, slick packaging and consistently gripping treatment, and I was not disappointed. I never expected a fresh insight into terrorism from a newcomer director, and, again, I wasn’t very wrong.

I had also read the praise-singing reviews from the authorities no lesser than Khalid Mohammad and Nikhat Kazmi. But I still did not have high hopes because I had also read similar reviews of Rang De Basanti.

And the movie began with a Mumbai Police Commissioner cooling his heels by the sea shore remembering a case that has no mention in the police records. Four internationally notoriously terrorists from dreaded terrorist organizations were forced to be released and three of them were blown off and one shot in staged police encounter. The case still has no mention in any official records. Am I supposed to believe it? Is that a made-in-India, unanimated version of Tom and Jerry: Terrorism series? But all that was later.

The first scene had actually managed to engage my attention, as a case that was not significant enough for police records but still lingered in the memory of the top cop had to be a moving human story about how the state power engages with the common man, or something close to that. Anything of that sort could be a wonderful story. I sat up and took note. And from there on my disappointment began. The movie took huge liberties with reality. Not only with the way things worked in the real world but also with the mindset of the people. The central character, brilliantly essayed by Naseer, is a family man who tries to teach the system a lesson so as to convey the desperation of the common man.

The problem is that the common is not so naïve as to think that the government lacks motivation to launch a crackdown on terrorism. Moreover, the director also ignores the fact that there has been a much larger crackdown in operation for years now with little gain so far. The US attacked Afghanistan and also Iraq, and it was as far as a country in terms of crackdown.

Did director Neeraj Pandey really intend to say that the reason for the spread of terrorism was that enough force was no applied? Did the director miss the point so completely? I thought of clearing it with the director himself and asked for an interview.

Neeraj, who has so far given very few interviews (if any at all), agreed to an e-mail interview. To my utter astonishment, he confirmed that he actually thought the pressure exerted was no enough. Terrorism, in his opinion, needed to be dealt with a firmer hand.

Of course, I did the Legal Scanner and the interview was part of it. I’ll very soon be publishing both on the blog.