~ by Dora Endre ~
The new Indian thriller by Behzad Khambata (Blank) brings a shocking, sensitive and highly original concept to the screen.
Naina (Yami Gautam), a beloved teacher of the Colaba playschool returns from a three week hiatus. All her colleagues, employees and students give her a warm welcome. The setup is all cheesy-fluffy-balloon-Goofy until she decides to take the sixteen kids in her group hostage. She immediately calls the police and starts speaking of her demands.
More and more details about Naina’s life and motivations are being revealed as the 128-minute-long movie rolls along. Khambata aims to gradually widen the film’s scope as well as the impact of the hostage situation similarly to a spider netting its web. The central event affects and absorbs more and more people.
A Thursday might be long in parts and has its pace occasionally go off the rails yet it touches upon a palette of topics, from class struggle to PTSD, from the challenges of being a leader to the unfairness of justice systems. Khambata, who has not only directed but also written his second feature film, tried to cover much ground here. Probably, a bit too much. There is a number of perspectives he sets off to analyze, this includes parents, police, workers of the press, politicians and the general public, just to mention a few. I am eagerly waiting for the time when Hollywood notices the unhinged potential here and turns this story into a mini-series. I doubt it will take long.
As the situation in the activity room of the playschool evolves, Naina’s numbers on social media rise rapidly. Moment to moment she becomes a celebrity, we could say; an influencer. She keeps in touch with the world through two channels; she uses the phone to talk with the police and her Instagram account to communicate with the wider public. A Thursday gives viewers strong Hunger Games vibes. People are desperate to consume entertainment, even if it happens to be blood-soaked. Exploring themes of sensationalism, modern day lack of empathy and using the visuals of social media platforms as integral storytelling tools, all work very well. Filming a hostage drama with children is inherently risky and sensitive business. Without spoiling anything, I must say, those audience members who are not in favor of filmmakers playing manipulative tricks on them, will not like certain twists here. Unfortunately, sometimes we reach the apotheosis of over-dramatization as well. The originality of the concept and Naina’s mystery slowly coming to clear would have been enough. Those pull us in already. That could have been trusted.
Furthermore, there are many short scenes and pieces of dialogue that are not only completely unnecessary but they also take away from the plot. One gets the peculiar feeling that these scenes are there to fill in a gap or two. There is plenty of repetition and over-explaining going too. For instance, Khambata establishes that the captain leading the raid is pregnant and she had to cancel her appointment at the gynaecologist to handle the case. Ten minutes later, we do not need to hear her talking to the doctor about the appointment and getting furious by her inability to show up at the MD’s office. But we do listen to the entire conversation.
If I have to highlight one filmmaking ingredient that blew my mind, dropped my jaw and pulled my pinkie; it must be cinematography. A Thursday demonstrates strong aesthetic choices from its director but also meticulously crafted, colored and coherent visuals. The 360° pan shots, the stark angle changes and alarming push in-s all add to the telling of this hectic and upsetting story wonderfully.
The score, overtime, sneaks under one’s skin. However, due to its forceful nature, less might have been a bit more. Sometimes it seems to only be a tool of distraction, as if it was supposed to cover something else.
It is an absolute shame that neither the central nor the supporting characters get more free air to move in. They stay chunky, two dimensional with little to no meaningful rapports. We cannot really root for one or the other. This impacts the climax as well. Fleshing out details would have served the story. However, the biggest issue with A Thursday is the level of acting. Talking about acting techniques and the current Indian education in the field of drama could be part of a whole other discussion. But I think it is vital to say, this exciting film loses a lot of its grip, power and potential due to the untruthfulness that the uneven quality of acting brings to it.
All in all, A Thursday is an intriguing and bold undertaking, one that turns up its engine midway through; once it goes into exploring social matters and unspoken issues in today’s India. Khambata sometimes goes over the top, however, he must be praised for his experimenting, sensitive and provocative approach.
A Thursday is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.