Black Friday — a tortuous quest through twisting bylanes

Thoughts on a recent interaction session with Anurag Kashyap and Black Friday.

The 1993 Bombay blasts can’t be oversimplified as “Terrorists attacked. People died.” Black Friday lays bare how so many people were responsible for the event to occur — and not just muslims but several hindus as well. In fact, at one point, the movie even suggests that it was inevitable for Bombay t0 get bombed, given what was done to muslims earlier. Even if Tiger’s plans were foiled, someone else would’ve taken up the initiative. It was inevitable is the feeling you get after watching the film.

The film is structured like a sprawling novel, with the narrative shifting focus from one character to the other. As a viewer, when you travel with each character, you enter his life and feel like you’re walking beside him, feeling what he feels. The perpetrators of the act are not cardboard villains spewing “Yeh jihad hai!” They’re cold and calculative. It’s not just ideals and religion that fuels Tiger, but also personal vendetta. Tiger was the only character who wasn’t painted sympathetically. You feel sorry for his underdogs, seeing the way they’re manipulated.

It’s rare to see a film that shows you a character in a particular way and then quickly makes you see that character in a completely different light. Another film that did this was The Sixth Sense. The first half makes you shit scared of ghosts but as the movie progresses, they stop scaring you. You begin to pity them. That’s exactly what happens with the perpetrators of the blast in this film. This was the most sympathetic portrayal of terrorists that I’ve seen. The chapter depicting Badshah Khan’s tortuous hiding from law makes you feel his crushing disappointment and disillusion. The moment when he’s sitting and watching a dog that’s trying to catch a bouncing ball, and realizes that he’s nothing but one of the many dogs that Tiger used to achieve his goals, you melt along with him. His prison is not the one behind bars. His prison is his loneliness. This chapter is easily the one that makes this film stand out against other crime dramas.

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Real life is made up of moments of faltering. Of being unsure. Of losing one’s balance if only for a moment. Black Friday is filled with several such moments. When the comical Dawood Phanse waits to meet Dawood Ibrahim at his Dubai house. When Nawazuddin Siddiqui is asked to drink a cup of tea, while surrounded by policemen interrogating him. When Kay Kay Menon steps out of Tiger’s kitchen with a banana and is faced with one of his constables. When a couple of terrorists are unable to park the vehicle near Shiv Sena Bhavan thanks to a traffic police and a petrol bunk serviceman. Each of these moments are jittery and unpredictable. And that’s what makes them real. You don’t know how each character is going to react in these circumstances and that draws you into the film. That’s Anurag Kashyap’s technique. You never know when the film is going to cut to another person’s story. The characters are jittery too. And deliberately so. When a man is made to sit in front of a cell and overhear how the inmates are tortured, you don’t know if he’s guilty or innocent. You don’t know what he’s going to do. You never know what’s going to happen next, who’s going to betray who, who’s going to stay alive and who’s going to die. The entire film has this jittery feel to it. It mirrors the aftermath of the terrorist bombings, the uncertainty that shrouds the entire nation’s political future.

I thought it was a phenomenal idea to open this violent film with a shot of peaceful doves. It isn’t just irony but symbolizes how the perpetrators will infiltrate the city and place the bombs. Just like the pigeons, they’re tiny, insignificant inhabitants, who’d hardly catch anyone’s attention, as they fly through the city, dropping the bombs at specific locations.

During the interaction session organized by SGIFF, Anurag Kashyap spoke about his guerrilla filmmaking style — of occupying decrepit buildings in the middle of the city, camping there with his entire cast and crew, using the city’s backdrop as his sprawling set, and shooting from a distance to make the scene feel real. He’d mentioned that several of Black Friday’s shots were top angle, looking down upon the characters, because the camera with a long lens was placed on the first floor of an adjacent building, so that you don’t make commoners aware of the camera and thereby make the scene more real. More alive. (I was surprised to know during the end credits that the camerawork for this film is by our dear ‘Nutty’ Nataraj.) There’s this wonderful post by my friend Bala on the famous chase sequence through Bombay’s bylanes, which I think symbolically summarizes the whole investigation affair. The police know who exactly who did it, since the first person arrested gives them a thorough name list. The identity of the criminals is clear as daylight in front of their eyes, but they need to wade through tiring, tortuous bylanes in their quest to nab them. And Black Friday essentially takes us along on that tortuous quest and finally leaves us out in the open. With our heads in a whirl, it gives us the choice to decide the path to go further.

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