4-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.scandal.4-1.7 | Sen PDF


As the home of the Hin­di film indus­try, Bom­bay has occu­pied cen­ter stage in Bollywood’s imag­i­nary of the mod­ern metrop­o­lis. Over the last decade, how­ev­er, cin­e­mat­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Bom­bay have under­gone dras­tic trans­for­ma­tions: from being the ter­rain of gang war­fare in the 80s and 90s, the cin­e­mat­ic city has become the pri­ma­ry tar­get and habi­tat of glob­al ter­ror­ism. Bollywood’s ren­di­tion of a city per­pet­u­al­ly under siege res­onates with the series of attacks that have plagued the hap­less metrop­o­lis since 1993. I inter­ro­gate Bollywood’s shift­ing rela­tion­ship with its home­town and its audi­ences via two land­mark films—A Wednes­day and Aamir (2008). I am espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in the dialec­tics of ordi­nar­i­ness and extra­or­di­nar­i­ness that inflect artic­u­la­tions of the city and its cit­i­zen­ry. In both films a ‘com­mon’ indi­vid­ual is called upon to per­form uncom­mon tasks in order to nego­ti­ate the space of poten­tial dev­as­ta­tion that is now Bom­bay. Spec­tac­u­lar per­for­mances of tech­nolo­gies and styl­is­tic devices gen­er­ate the cin­e­mat­ic city as an affec­tive locus of dread. I pay spe­cial atten­tion to cin­e­matog­ra­phy and edit­ing, which enable the filmic fig­u­ra­tion of the city in these recent films.

Bom­bay, le cen­tre du ciné­ma Hin­di, a tou­jours servi d’image de la métro­pole mod­erne dans l’imaginaire de Bol­ly­wood. Néan­moins, au cours de la dernière décen­nie, la représen­ta­tion ciné­matographique de Bom­bay a subi des trans­for­ma­tions dras­tiques : la ville antérieure­ment con­nue pour ses guer­res entre ban­des dans les années 80 et 90 est main­tenant un lieu et une cible impor­tant du ter­ror­isme glob­al. Le por­trait d’une ville assiégée cor­re­spond à une série d’attaques qui ont han­té la métro­pole malchanceuse depuis 1993. Cet arti­cle pro­pose d’analyser le rap­port fluc­tu­ant entre Bol­ly­wood et sa ville orig­inelle à tra­vers deux films mar­quants « A Wednes­day » et « Amir » (2008). L’accent est mis sur la dialec­tique ente l’ordinaire et l’extraordinaire qui mod­ule les artic­u­la­tions de la ville et des citoyens. Dans les deux films un homme ordi­naire est con­vo­qué à exé­cuter des tach­es hors du com­mun afin de négoci­er sa posi­tion dans l’espace de dévas­ta­tion poten­tielle qu’est désor­mais Bom­bay. Les per­for­mances spec­tac­u­laires de la tech­nolo­gie et des appareils styl­is­tiques font de cette ville ciné­matographique un lieu affec­tif de la peur. L’article se con­cen­tre sur les straté­gies ciné­matographiques et de mon­tage qui domi­nent la mise en scène de la ville dans ces films.

Mehe­li Sen | Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty

We are Resilient by Force, not by Choice”:
Terrifying Bombay in New Bollywood Cinema

The Bat­tle of Bom­bay is the bat­tle of the self against the crowd. In a city of 14 mil­lion peo­ple, how much val­ue is asso­ci­at­ed with the num­ber one? The bat­tle is Man against the Metrop­o­lis, which is only the infi­nite exten­sion of Man and the demon against which he must con­stant­ly strive to estab­lish him­self or be anni­hi­lat­ed. A city is an agglom­er­a­tion of indi­vid­ual dreams, a mass dream of the crowd. In order for the dream life of a city to stay vital, each indi­vid­ual dream has to stay vital. (Mehta 539)

The sense of a city expe­ri­enc­ing dis­or­der and cri­sis dom­i­nates nar­ra­tives of con­tem­po­rary Bom­bay in both jour­nal­is­tic dis­course and pop­u­lar per­cep­tions of the city…Cri­sis is… both an intense expe­ri­ence as well as a metaphor for the con­tem­po­rary cityscape. For the film indus­try the expe­ri­ence of cri­sis can only be ren­dered to their audi­ences through nar­ra­tives of despair. (Mazum­dar 421; empha­sis in the orig­i­nal)

For decades, before becom­ing the cin­e­mat­ic city of death and dev­as­ta­tion, Bom­bay has har­nessed myr­i­ad fan­tasies for pop­u­lar cin­e­ma in India. As the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal of India—once as the most impor­tant man­u­fac­tur­ing hub and late­ly as a cru­cial node in the trav­els of glob­al capital—as well as the home of the film indus­try, the city has occu­pied cen­ter stage in cinema’s imag­i­nary of the mod­ern metrop­o­lis. In fact, Bombay’s icon­ic fig­u­ra­tion in Hin­di film can hard­ly be over­stat­ed. How­ev­er, the cin­e­mat­ic city has under­gone cru­cial trans­for­ma­tions over the years: in the 50s when the post­colo­nial nation­al imag­i­nary was ani­mat­ed by aspi­ra­tions of devel­op­ment and moder­ni­ty, Bom­bay became the site for the cin­e­mat­ic elab­o­ra­tion of these dreams; rep­re­sen­ta­tions of bustling urban spaces belonged to the same icon­ic reg­is­ter of Nehru­vian devel­op­ment, as did bridges, dams and fac­to­ries. In the 70s, as India entered into a phase of pro­found polit­i­cal dis­qui­et, the cin­e­mat­ic Bom­bay mor­phed into a gang­land where smug­glers, crime boss­es, molls, and the moral­ly ambigu­ous hero came to be its fore­most denizens. In the last two decades fol­low­ing the advent of eco­nom­ic lib­er­al­iza­tion, Bom­bay has trans­formed once again: for Hin­di cin­e­ma, it has become either a glitzy play­ground for the super wealthy, or, an impen­e­tra­ble and ter­ri­fy­ing refuge for under­world crim­i­nal­i­ty or glob­al ter­ror­ism. Mad­ha­va Prasad has argued for the metaphor­i­cal nature of Bom­bay as pop­u­lar cinema’s ur city:

For pop­u­lar Hin­di cin­e­ma the metrop­o­lis of choice has always been Bom­bay. From Miss Fron­tier Mail (dir. Homi Wadia, 1936) to Satya (dir. Ram Gopal Var­ma, 1998), Hin­di cinema’s nar­ra­tive geog­ra­phy, which is oth­er­wise extreme­ly unspe­cif­ic, incor­po­rates as a sig­nif­i­cant turn in the plot, the event of ‘going to Bom­bay.’ The city itself fig­ures with vary­ing degrees of speci­fici­ty, a vari­ance that can be explained in terms of both tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments mak­ing pos­si­ble a greater invest­ment in real­ism, as well as the par­tic­u­lar genre of film that is in ques­tion (86)

The ques­tion of real­ism is a cru­cial one for my dis­cus­sion here, because the films in ques­tion not only ren­der the city tan­gi­ble as an affec­tive ter­rain of fear, via a care­ful deploy­ment of cin­e­mat­ic tech­nolo­gies, but also because they res­onate with real-life ter­ror attacks that the metrop­o­lis has suf­fered repeat­ed­ly in recent decades.

The recent cycle of ter­ror attacks on the city began in 1993; fol­low­ing the demo­li­tion of the Babri Mosque in Ayo­d­hya by a mob amassed by the Hin­du Right, the Mus­lim under­world respond­ed by exe­cut­ing a series of care­ful­ly coor­di­nat­ed bomb blasts in the city. 250 civil­ians were killed and hun­dreds injured in this first bout of vio­lence that pro­found­ly dam­aged Bombay’s image as India’s cos­mopoli­tan cap­i­tal. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the attacks set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent; since then, cycles of ter­ror attacks have become hor­ri­fy­ing­ly quo­tid­i­an in the city: on Decem­ber 6, 2002, on the 10th anniver­sary of the Babri Mosque inci­dent, a blast on a bus killed two peo­ple and injured many oth­ers. In March 2003, a bomb explod­ed in a train com­part­ment killing 10 peo­ple; lat­er that year, two bombs explod­ed in South Bom­bay, one near the Gate­way of India mon­u­ment and anoth­er at Zaveri Bazar. Accord­ing to pub­lished reports, at least 44 peo­ple were killed and over a hun­dred injured in this attack. In 2006, a series of sev­en bomb blasts killed hun­dreds of com­muters on sub­ur­ban trains, over a span of just eleven min­utes; the report­ed casu­al­ties were over 200. In 2008, yet anoth­er series of attacks were car­ried out in dif­fer­ent tourist and com­mer­cial loca­tions in the city, this time killing over 150 peo­ple, includ­ing some inter­na­tion­al tourists, sev­er­al attack­ers and secu­ri­ty per­son­nel. For the pur­pos­es of my argu­ment, it is cru­cial to note the mul­ti-pronged nature of these onslaughts: the terrorists—allegedly belong­ing to sev­er­al mil­i­tant Islam­ic orga­ni­za­tions from India and Pak­istan, notably Lashkar-e-Toi­ba and SIMIsimul­ta­ne­ous­ly car­ried out oper­a­tions in sev­er­al far flung regions of the city. A degree of com­mu­ni­ca­tion­al sophis­ti­ca­tion and intri­cate plan­ning attend­ed to the exe­cu­tion of this vio­lence.

It is there­fore no acci­dent that the cin­e­mat­ic Bom­bay is now an emblem­at­ic habi­tat of glob­al ter­ror­ism. Sev­er­al recent films, notably Black Fri­day (dir. Anurag Kashyap, 2004), Aamir (dir. Raj Kumar Gup­ta, 2008), A Wednes­day (dir. Neer­aj Pandey, 2008), Del­hi 6 (dir. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, 2009), and oth­ers envis­age the city as a dread­ful site of poten­tial car­nage where ter­ror net­works remain robust—undetected, unchecked and per­vad­ing every­day lives and spaces. These films, most­ly thrillers, also under­score the competence—both orga­ni­za­tion­al and informatic—that the attack­ers have demon­strat­ed in recent years. Need­less to say, the fear of tech­no­log­i­cal and orga­ni­za­tion­al sophis­ti­ca­tion har­nessed by alleged ter­ror­ists has reached new lev­els after 9/11.

The twin vec­tors of space (Bom­bay city) and time (fol­low­ing the bomb-blasts in 1993) are impor­tant for my analy­sis here, because the filmic city emerges with­in a spe­cial kind of space-time inter­face. Through­out the rest of this analy­sis, I hope to demon­strate pre­cise­ly the man­ner in which “Bom­bay” comes to be fig­urable, by mov­ing between the spa­tial and tem­po­ral axes of the films in ques­tion. The ques­tion of real­ism is espe­cial­ly per­ti­nent to this analy­sis, because the films I ana­lyze here have been laud­ed for their “real­is­tic” por­tray­al of the city and its every­day rhythms. As Moinak Biswas has argued, the city of Hin­di cin­e­ma has acquired a cer­tain nat­u­ral­ism and den­si­ty in recent years, espe­cial­ly in the gang­ster genre, which shares cer­tain key attrib­ut­es with the films I dis­cuss here: “We are trapped inside the city; the extend­ed ini­ti­a­tion in vio­lence makes the char­ac­ter an expert user of the city, whose slums and lanes are chore­o­graphed into a per­for­mance of shock and sur­vival. What does this mean in terms of film lan­guage? Pri­mar­i­ly, there is a tech­ni­cal mobi­liza­tion that seeks to cre­ate a rap­port between the urban sen­so­ri­um and the per­cep­tu­al regime of the film. (In the process, tech­nol­o­gy itself often ris­es to the sur­face as per­for­mance).” (online) This, then, is a spe­cial kind of real­ism.[1] Pay­ing par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to this “per­for­ma­tive” aspect of cin­e­mat­ic tech­nol­o­gy, in what fol­lows I will inves­ti­gate exact­ly what kind of “urban sen­so­ri­um” is gen­er­at­ed in this new­er iter­a­tion of the thriller—the ter­ror­ism film.

Ordinary Citizens, Extraordinary City

I will dis­cuss two recent and much dis­cussed films from 2008: Aamir and A Wednes­day. Both texts bris­tle with the dread of attacks on the hap­less metrop­o­lis, but in marked­ly dif­fer­ent ways: while the epony­mous pro­tag­o­nist of Aamir (Rajeev Khan­del­w­al) steps into the fear­ful city as an unwit­ting and some­what naïve out­sider, the unnamed hero of A Wednes­day (Naseerud­din Shah) elo­quent­ly invokes the grue­some attacks that have dev­as­tat­ed the city in his final, cli­mac­tic solil­o­quy to the com­mis­sion­er of police.  Both films bear the dread­ful mem­o­ry of death and destruc­tion at their affec­tive cores; these are, emphat­i­cal­ly, trau­ma texts, which return repeat­ed­ly to the moments of vio­lence. What makes these texts espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing for the present inquiry is that they exist in a time warp: while nei­ther film’s die­ge­sis takes place at the moment of the blasts,[2] both imag­ine the metrop­o­lis as a space of poten­tial dev­as­ta­tion.  The bomb blasts fig­ure in these nar­ra­tives not sim­ply as the past of the city, but as an always already acces­si­ble mode of recall and anticipation—a past that is always present, and a present that moves inex­orably towards an inevitable future—another attack. What we have here is a trau­mat­ic tem­po­ral­i­ty that has lost all log­ic of lin­ear­i­ty; the city of Bom­bay exists in the films caught in a dread­ful cycle of event, delay and rep­e­ti­tion.[3]

Bri­an Massumi’s recent work on “the ontol­ogy of the threat” offers a fecund point of entry into the tem­po­ral dis­pen­sa­tion har­nessed by these films:

Threat is from the future. It is what might come next. Its even­tu­al loca­tion and ulti­mate extent are unde­fined. Its nature is open-end­ed. It is not just what it is not: it is not in a way that is nev­er over. We can nev­er be done with it. Even if a clear and present dan­ger mate­ri­al­izes in the present, it is still not over. There is always the nag­ging poten­tial of the next after being even worse, and of a still worse next again after that. The uncer­tain­ty of the poten­tial next is nev­er con­sumed in any giv­en event. There is always a remain­der of uncer­tain­ty, an uncon­sum­mat­ed sur­plus of dan­ger.” (53)

What Mas­su­mi alerts us to is the threat’s con­stant deferral—even as an event occurs—as well as its lim­it­less poten­tial­i­ty in the future. It is pre­cise­ly these char­ac­ter­is­tics of the threat that enables the pro­tag­o­nist in A Wednes­day to eas­i­ly par­a­lyze the law enforce­ment sys­tem of the city, because as the chief min­is­ter of the state suc­cinct­ly states, “there must be no blasts in Bom­bay today.” The city is a per­pet­u­al hostage to threat. The meta­nar­ra­tive of past/future vio­lence enables the cin­e­mat­ic fig­u­ra­tion of Bom­bay as a city under siege—a city that can only be con­ceived as imper­iled. The sus­pen­sion of lin­ear time endows the cin­e­mat­ic city with a ter­ri­fy­ing extra­or­di­nar­i­ness: Bom­bay is spe­cial because at any moment it may cease to exist alto­geth­er. The films sit­u­ate them­selves in a moment of dread­ful appre­hen­sion until the next attack. Mas­su­mi also points out that the exis­tence of a “real” threat is imma­te­r­i­al in this con­text because, “threat is not real in spite of its nonex­is­tence. It is superla­tive­ly real, because of it.” (53) In both films under dis­cus­sion here, the threat is “real” inso­far as actors and poten­tial actions are con­cerned; how­ev­er, what the films more pro­found­ly invoke is the idea that in con­tem­po­rary Bom­bay, the threat can­not be any­thing but real. The cin­e­mat­ic city emerges through a par­tic­u­lar kind of orga­ni­za­tion of visu­al mate­r­i­al that priv­i­leges fear and dread above all oth­er affec­tive registers—fear is what con­jures up the city, brings it into being, as it were: “fear is the affec­tive fact of the mat­ter.” (Mas­su­mi 54; empha­sis in orig­i­nal)

While the metrop­o­lis is ren­dered extra­or­di­nary through the log­ic of tem­po­ral re-orga­ni­za­tion, its cit­i­zens remain defi­ant­ly ordi­nary. In fact, both Aamir and A Wednes­day expend sig­nif­i­cant nar­ra­tive ener­gy in but­tress­ing the unre­mark­able lives of its main pro­tag­o­nists. A bewil­dered Aamir keeps reit­er­at­ing his sta­tus as an ordi­nary cit­i­zen to the dis­em­bod­ied voice on the phone, to no avail. In some ways, how­ev­er, he is special—and a rare char­ac­ter for Bollywood’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al matrix—a mod­ern, sec­u­lar, edu­cat­ed, pro­gres­sive Mus­lim. The film chron­i­cles a har­row­ing day in his life, as the spec­tral voice on a mobile phone irrev­o­ca­bly changes Aamir’s des­tiny.

Pre­dictably, the voice belongs to the fanat­i­cal leader of a ter­ror­ist out­fit who deploys the hap­less hero to plant a bomb in a crowd­ed res­i­den­tial area in the city. Aamir sheds the ordi­nar­i­ness he has des­per­ate­ly clung to at the very end, when, in an unchar­ac­ter­is­tic ges­ture of defi­ance, he com­mits sui­cide to save numer­ous cit­i­zens of Bom­bay. He becomes at this instance the very oppo­site of a sui­cide bomber—the destruc­tion of his body remains sin­gu­lar, iso­lat­ed and in the terrorist’s scheme of things, com­plete­ly mean­ing­less. It is this final ges­ture of coura­geous self-destruc­tion that bestows on him the man­tle of hero­ism, one he has fran­ti­cal­ly tried to avoid for the bulk of the film. The voice on the phone (the ter­ror­ist mas­ter­mind remains name­less and large­ly face­less) coerces, cajoles and, of course, threat­ens, just so Aamir would under­stand the pro­found sig­nif­i­cance of his name—the word ‘Aamir’ refers to ‘leader’ in Ara­bic. Iron­i­cal­ly, it is by reject­ing the man­tle of lead­er­ship of the Islam­ic broth­er­hood that Aamir becomes a hero in death.

The pro­tag­o­nist of A Wednes­day—name­less, because names car­ry the mark­er of reli­gion in South Asia—straddles the ordi­nary-extra­or­di­nary dialec­tic in a dif­fer­ent man­ner. The post-pro­logue sequence offers a typ­i­cal mon­tage of the cityscape: bustling shots of the metrop­o­lis, gar­gan­tu­an traf­fic jams, hur­ry­ing crowds, train sta­tions and trains crammed full of peo­ple, cit­i­zens scur­ry­ing to reach work­places on time. Amidst this city in motion, we see our pro­tag­o­nist appar­ent­ly hur­ry­ing in tan­dem. How­ev­er, the film denotes his extra­or­di­nar­i­ness by iso­lat­ing him in vibrant col­or, while the rest of the city is bleached out, seem­ing­ly drained of all hues. Bom­bay appears large­ly gray and shroud­ed in smog in A Wednes­day, a city that con­ceals and har­bors unseen threats at every moment. While sin­gled out for our atten­tion, he remains emphat­i­cal­ly ordi­nary in oth­er ways—clearly mid­dle class with no spe­cif­ic facial or bod­i­ly char­ac­ter­is­tic, he eas­i­ly blends in as one in a crowd of mil­lions. (see fig. 1) His ordi­nar­i­ness, for exam­ple, is also sign­post­ed through a phone con­ver­sa­tion in which his wife reminds him to pick up gro­ceries on his way home; this scene remains a sur­plus with­in the film’s strin­gent nar­ra­tive econ­o­my, but func­tions as a scaf­fold to the protagonist’s mar­ried, bour­geois and con­ven­tion­al pro­file. The extra­or­di­nary strength and willpow­er of this man becomes clear only a few min­utes lat­er when he brings the entire law and order machin­ery of the city to a shud­der­ing halt.

Fig. 1

This protagonist—older, unarmed, mid­dle-class and clear­ly educated—forces the police com­mis­sion­er as well as the admin­is­tra­tive offi­cials of the state to deliv­er four very spe­cif­ic terrorists—involved in the attacks on the city in 1992-93, 2006, etc.—to a desert­ed avi­a­tion base, and then assas­si­nate them en masse. His bar­gain­ing chip is his asser­tion of hav­ing plant­ed five bombs in five dif­fer­ent city loca­tions; he sim­ply threat­ens to det­o­nate these if the state refus­es to accede to his demands. The nar­ra­tive is, thus, a mon­u­men­tal con­fronta­tion between the state—represented here by the belea­guered law enforce­ment machinery—and the cit­i­zen, now in the garb of a vig­i­lante seek­er of jus­tice. Ini­tial­ly thought to be the leader of a sophis­ti­cat­ed ter­ror net­work—Al Qae­da is men­tioned sev­er­al times—he turns out to be an ordi­nary cit­i­zen of Bom­bay, but one bent on met­ing a par­tic­u­lar kind of jus­tice on the crim­i­nals in ques­tion. In accom­plish­ing this aston­ish­ing task, he deploys the pop­u­lar news media as well as an extra­or­di­nary range of elec­tron­ic gad­gets that he has amassed on the rooftop of a desert­ed, half-fin­ished sky­scraper, one among many avail­able in the build­ing boom of the city’s sub­urbs. In his final tele­phone call to the com­mis­sion­er of police, Rathod (Anu­pam Kher), he invokes this ordi­nary-extra­or­di­nary dialec­tic him­self: he states that he is a “stu­pid com­mon man,” the kind who is rou­tine­ly killed in the ter­ror­ist attacks on the city and jus­tice is either delayed or sim­ply not forth­com­ing. Voic­ing the col­lec­tive frus­tra­tion of mil­lions of cit­i­zens of Bom­bay, he declares, “peo­ple are angry, don’t try us. We are resilient by force, not choice.” In explain­ing his actions of the day, he says he is mere­ly “clean­ing house” of the pests that infest it—the metaphor of home and pesti­lence remain com­pelling indict­ments of the administration’s appar­ent inabil­i­ty to either stop the suc­ces­sive waves of attacks on Bom­bay or to bring the crim­i­nals to jus­tice in a time­ly fash­ion. At Rathod’s per­sis­tent ques­tion­ing, he also reveals that it is ridicu­lous­ly easy to both gath­er the raw mate­ri­als and to make bombs—instructions are eas­i­ly avail­able on the internet—once again but­tress­ing the fail­ure of the law and order appa­ra­tus to erad­i­cate the threat of ter­ror attacks in any mean­ing­ful way. The cen­tral tool of nar­ra­tive pro­gres­sion in A Wednes­day is conversation—a series of them between Rathod and our unnamed pro­tag­o­nist. In the final cli­mac­tic chat, he informs the astound­ed com­mis­sion­er that he inter­prets the series of ter­ror­ist attacks on Bom­bay as ques­tions, mock­ing gauntlets that the ter­ror­ists have thrown down against the hap­less cit­i­zen­ry. These were posed on Tues­day, and he is sim­ply respond­ing to them on a Wednes­day.

Cityscape of Dread as Spectacle

In her essay titled “Spec­ta­cle and Death in Bom­bay Cin­e­ma”, Ran­jani Mazum­dar makes a cru­cial dis­tinc­tion between two dif­fer­ent rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al modal­i­ties via which the city of Bom­bay has come to be fig­urable in recent Hin­di cin­e­ma: as either spec­tac­u­lar inte­ri­ors in fam­i­ly films or as dystopic, derelict out­doors in the grit­ty, real­is­tic gang­ster genre:

The panoram­ic inte­ri­ors of the fam­i­ly films com­bine design tech­niques with archi­tec­tur­al space to cre­ate a “vir­tu­al city” where the “glob­al” fam­i­ly can rein­vent “Indi­an­ness” and moder­ni­ty. In this sce­nario, the space of the Bom­bay street, the chawl, the train, and the crowds, which were always cen­tral to the nar­ra­tives of pop­u­lar cin­e­ma, are con­sis­tent­ly mar­gin­al­ized. In con­trast, the films of the new gang­ster genre con­duct an elab­o­rate explo­ration of urban space. The dark alleys, crowd­ed streets, the slums, the peel­ing walls, and the claus­tro­pho­bic chawls are all on dis­play. Unlike the fam­i­ly films, where pub­lic city space is erased, the under­world films nego­ti­ate the city through a hyper-real mode that relies on a com­bi­na­tion of vio­lence, tech­nol­o­gy, mas­culin­i­ty, and urban space (402).

Mazum­dar, thus, sit­u­ates Bollywood’s “spec­tac­u­lar glob­al city” in oppo­si­tion to what she calls the city of “spa­tial dis­en­chant­ment” (426), as nav­i­gat­ed by the urban gang­ster genre. Push­ing her argu­ment fur­ther, I would like to ask, what hap­pens when the dark, sin­is­ter, dystopic city is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly ren­dered spec­tac­u­lar through film style? Both Aamir and A Wednes­day con­jure up the city of Bom­bay as a ter­rain of dan­ger, dread and poten­tial destruc­tion. This affec­tive, hyper-metrop­o­lis comes to be fig­urable through the exten­sive use of cin­e­mat­ic tech­nolo­gies and styl­is­tic tools, par­tic­u­lar­ly via a care­ful orches­tra­tion of mise-en-scene, cin­e­matog­ra­phy and edit­ing.

In A Wednes­day, we are shown three sep­a­rate, dis­crete loci of action—the protagonist’s perch on the rooftop, the cen­tral ‘war room’ of the police high com­mis­sion and the dis­parate spaces of the city that the police­men tra­verse in their hunt for the nameless/faceless caller. The three loca­tion­al clus­ters do not over­lap but are con­stant­ly brought togeth­er through the log­ic of tem­po­ral simul­tane­ity; the cin­e­matog­ra­phy and edit­ing styles of the film insis­tent­ly jux­ta­pose these spaces in order to ampli­fy the mount­ing sense of urgency expe­ri­enced by the law enforce­ment author­i­ties. The pri­ma­ry styl­is­tic tech­niques deployed here are cross-cut­ting and the use of split screen imagery, both of which enable the spaces to be tied togeth­er in an inex­orable feed­back loop: what hap­pens on the rooftop affects the war room, which affects the bat­tery of police­men comb­ing the city, which is then relayed to the pro­tag­o­nist on the rooftop. Tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions between Rathod and the pro­tag­o­nist are often pre­sent­ed via the split screen—a device that enables us to observe the expres­sions and reac­tions of both men simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and to read the film as a con­test of wills between oppo­nents who are equal­ly matched. (see fig. 2). The split screen also gen­er­ates a hyper-loca­tion of the spec­ta­tor: a ter­rain of vis­i­bil­i­ty made pos­si­ble only through the vir­tu­oso use of technology—both cin­e­mat­ic and com­mu­ni­ca­tion­al. As Ravi Vasude­van has sug­gest­ed, “such a hyper-loca­tion, braid­ing the spec­ta­tors into spaces that are dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed, draws upon the omni­scient con­ven­tions of clas­si­cal nar­ra­tion. Sep­a­rat­ed spaces can be fig­ured as adja­cent, as col­laps­ing into each oth­er, and as rapid­ly nego­tiable, via that key appa­ra­tus of con­tem­po­rary com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the mobile phone” (66).

Fig. 2

As the clock ticks inex­orably toward the dead­line set by the pro­tag­o­nist, the oper­a­tions of the police get even more fren­zied. One of the most mem­o­rable cross-cut sequences in A Wednes­day fea­tures at least three par­al­lel lines of action: police­men Arif (Jim­my Shergill) and Jay (Aamir Bashir) trav­el to the avi­a­tion base with four ter­ror­ists while a sketch artist tries fran­ti­cal­ly to gen­er­ate a facial pro­file of the caller, mean­while, ele­vat­ed far above all this action atop the sky­scraper, the pro­tag­o­nist calm­ly sur­veys the city while drink­ing a bev­er­age. His still­ness and assur­ance are care­ful­ly jux­ta­posed against the des­per­ate activ­i­ties he has engen­dered in the besieged metrop­o­lis far below; a series of rapid shots, the pace of edit­ing, and the puls­ing music on the sound­track under­score the urgency of the sit­u­a­tion. The city, thus invoked, is a space of per­va­sive dan­ger, chaos and poten­tial cat­a­stro­phe.

Aamir fore­grounds the city of dread through some­what dif­fer­ent means, pri­mar­i­ly because in this film the pro­tag­o­nist is immersed in the urban sen­so­ri­um in a way that our vig­i­lante from A Wednes­day was not. As soon as Aamir steps out of the air­port, the city con­fronts him with all its noise, crowds and chaos. Soon after, he real­izes that he and his fam­i­ly are in deep per­il, ensnared in a web of vio­lence, intrigue and crim­i­nal con­spir­a­cy that he can bare­ly com­pre­hend, let alone con­trol. Although Aamir claims to be a native of Bom­bay, the city remains rad­i­cal in its otherness—Bombay does not wel­come him home; it con­stel­lates as a deeply threat­en­ing mélange of dense urban spaces that dis­turb, dis­ori­ent and ter­ror­ize the hero. Aamir does not sim­ply arrive in Bom­bay, he encoun­ters it. Here again, the ques­tion of the affec­tive gen­er­a­tion of the filmic metrop­o­lis is of crit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, if we under­stand the term as “per­sis­tent proof of a body’s nev­er less than ongo­ing immer­sion in and among the world’s obsti­na­cies and rhythms, its refusals as much as its invi­ta­tions.  Affect is in many ways syn­ony­mous with force or forces of encounter” (Gregg and Seig­worth 2-3; empha­sis in orig­i­nal) The body’s capac­i­ty for action is also of con­se­quence in this regard.

The film employs a vir­tu­al cor­nu­copia of tech­niques to bring into being the city’s dystopic geog­ra­phy and tex­ture. I would like to under­score three par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive styl­is­tic choic­es via which Bom­bay con­fronts the hero—and the spec­ta­tors by proxy—with its dread­ful and vis­cer­al oth­er­ness: the use of selec­tive focus, the fore­ground­ing of crowds of strangers through block­ing, and edit­ing. In key sequences as Aamir tries to com­ply with the bhai’s (lit­er­al­ly broth­er, but used to denote gang lead­ers in Hin­di cinema’s vocab­u­lary) orders, we see him ensnared in city spaces that remain defi­ant­ly inscrutable. While Aamir him­self remains in crisp focus, the fore­ground and background—essentially the sur­round­ing cityscape—is thrown out of focus. We see blur­ry out­lines of traf­fic, peo­ple etc. whiz by, but not with any degree of clar­i­ty. In oth­er words, the city is ren­dered indis­tinct as a blur of fran­tic motion, an affec­tive ter­rain that can offer no rest, sta­sis or safe havens for the belea­guered hero.[4] (see fig. 3)

Fig. 3

Also cru­cial in ampli­fy­ing Aamir’s acute out-of-place-ness are the loca­tions he is asked to tra­verse dur­ing his day-long ordeal. The neigh­bor­hoods of Don­gri and Bhin­di Bazar are hard­ly spaces reg­u­lar­ly explored by Bol­ly­wood cin­e­ma; these are poor, extreme­ly crowd­ed, large­ly Mus­lim sub­urbs of the city that the film thrusts at us as spec­tac­u­lar coun­ter­points to the more famil­iar Bom­bay land­marks: the Gate­way of India, Marine Dri­ve and Vic­to­ria Ter­mi­nus. Spec­ta­tors echo Aamir’s bewil­der­ment and des­per­a­tion, as he tries to nav­i­gate the treach­er­ous, unfa­mil­iar ter­rains of the city’s under­bel­ly: he is hope­less­ly lost in the war­ren of sprawl­ing slums, dirty, nar­row lanes and alleys, grimy, derelict exte­ri­ors and inte­ri­ors, and, most impor­tant­ly, amidst suf­fo­cat­ing crowds of jostling strangers. Bom­bay appears as a labyrinthine maze of dark, dis­mal, decay­ing spaces that wait in antic­i­pa­tion to ensnare Aamir with­in them. These spaces res­onate with what Freud called unheim­lich—the uncan­ny, dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed to all that can be con­sid­ered famil­iar and the home­ly.[5]

Fig. 4

Aamir sticks out like the prover­bial sore thumb in this land­scape of urban “ruin” (Mazum­dar 424), first because he is dressed in an expen­sive suit in jar­ring con­trast with the pover­ty and squalor sur­round­ing him, but more cru­cial­ly because he is emphat­i­cal­ly a stranger in this topos of the city as a space of dan­ger and dis­en­chant­ment. The edit­ing of Aamir com­pelling­ly under­scores his sta­tus as an out­sider. In mul­ti­ple sequences—for exam­ple, espe­cial­ly provoca­tive­ly in the scene where he walks through the meat mar­ket[6]—wide shots of the hero trapped amidst crowds hur­ry­ing through the city are rapid­ly jux­ta­posed against big close ups of faces, pre­sum­ably observ­ing his every move from the vicin­i­ty. We are nev­er giv­en a spa­tial con­text for these faces, most of which look watch­ful, sin­is­ter, sen­tient; we nev­er know how close or far away these dis­em­bod­ied peo­ple are from Aamir, ampli­fy­ing our sense of dis­ori­en­ta­tion and dis­lo­ca­tion. (see figs. 4, 5 and 6). The point-of-view mobile shots ensure that when these faces look at him, they also look at us.[7] Some sequences jux­ta­pose slow motion shots of crowds, faces and feet; mass­es of unfa­mil­iar bod­ies push, shove and jos­tle Aamir as he des­per­ate­ly hur­ries to do the bhai’s bid­ding. The spo­radic use of a hand-held cam­era also under­scores our sense of par­tic­i­pa­tion in this sequence. In a rad­i­cal revi­sion of Bollywood’s typ­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of good-heart­ed, plebian city-folk, the press­ing mul­ti­tude nev­er offers com­fort or suc­cor to the hero; the crowds remain inscrutable, appar­ent­ly either hos­tile or sim­ply indif­fer­ent, and, oppres­sive­ly close, height­en­ing Aamir’s acute sense of being claus­tro­pho­bi­cal­ly hemmed in. And, the sense of ever-present threat is always over­whelm­ing amidst crowds, espe­cial­ly because the press of unruly, chaot­ic bod­ies also includes the bhai’s min­ions and agents, ensur­ing his con­stant omni­science.

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

Panopticon, Synopticon and the City of Surveillance

The dread­ful city in both A Wednes­day and Aamir is also, foun­da­tion­al­ly, a city of sur­veil­lance. Each film envis­ages Bom­bay via dis­tinct and var­ied regimes of vis­i­bil­i­ty: in the for­mer, the pro­tag­o­nist sur­veys the city, unseen, from his rooftop perch, in the lat­ter Aamir is always under scruti­ny by vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble eyes. Both texts also fore­ground mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tion devices, most ubiq­ui­tous­ly the mobile phone which con­nects dis­parate spaces and actors in the dra­ma of sus­pense and vio­lence.

Fol­low­ing Michel Foucault’s (1977) sem­i­nal elab­o­ra­tion of Jere­my Bentham’s 1785 dis­ci­pli­nary mod­el of the Panop­ti­con, the trope has come to be per­va­sive in the field of sur­veil­lance stud­ies. In spite of its lim­it­ed pur­chase in engag­ing with the mind-bog­gling array of data gath­er­ing tech­nolo­gies used cur­rent­ly by sta­tist author­i­ties and cor­po­ra­tions, the panop­ti­cal mod­el is in fact quite res­o­nant with the man­ner in which A Wednes­day maps the city of Bom­bay as a series of vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble zones of access and con­trol.[8] First, the film simul­ta­ne­ous­ly fetishizes lat­est tech­no­log­i­cal devices and ren­ders them every­day. The “stu­pid com­mon man” has amassed a vast array of com­put­er­ized and net­work devices on the rooftop and, as men­tioned above, he calm­ly informs Rathod that in the era of the inter­net, it is ridicu­lous­ly sim­ple to access tech­nolo­gies of vio­lence. (see fig. 7) Once again, we are con­front­ed by the dialec­tics of ordinariness/extraordinariness of the vig­i­lante cit­i­zen, and, the same dialec­tic informs the film’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion of infor­ma­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy and its rela­tion­ship to poten­tial vio­lence. If a “com­mon man” can cre­ate and det­o­nate a dozen bombs across Bom­bay, then the law enforce­ment appa­ra­tus is ren­dered com­plete­ly impo­tent in the cur­rent era of per­va­sive elec­tron­ic com­pe­tence. The age of infor­ma­tion is both abil­i­fy­ing and debil­i­tat­ing; infor­ma­tion­al regimes can just as eas­i­ly be deployed to plan and exe­cute vio­lence as to pre­vent it. In Bombay—the city besieged by terror—the for­mer has his­tor­i­cal­ly tri­umphed over the lat­ter. A Wednes­day also under­scores this dis­crep­an­cy in terms technological/informational com­pe­tence between the state and the vigilante/terrorist.

Fig. 7

Fig. 8

Fig. 9

Vision—seeing/observing/surveillance as a metaphor for power—is also grant­ed to the pro­tag­o­nist via the cam­er­a­work of the film. In sev­er­al key sequences, the pro­tag­o­nist is framed against Bombay’s cityscape, and a num­ber of 360 degree track­ing, pan­ning and crane shots, present the city as his domain (see figs. 8 and 9). This is a vista of urban geog­ra­phy that he con­trols through the pow­er of vision: “The panop­tic urge is to make every­thing vis­i­ble; it is the desire and dri­ve towards a total gaze, to fix the body through tech­nique and to gen­er­ate regimes of self dis­ci­pline through uncer­tain­ty” (Lyon 44). The absolute gaze of the pro­tag­o­nist is iron­i­cal­ly rein­forced by the fact that he is both inti­mate­ly linked to these spaces, and, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly lofti­ly removed from them. Rahul Mukher­jee pro­vides an excel­lent descrip­tion of these sequences of sur­veil­lance, vis­i­bil­i­ty and con­trol in A Wednes­day:

If ter­ror indeed thrives on infor­ma­tion, of which it must deprive the vic­tim, the decep­tive “stu­pid com­mon man” gar­ners news through Naina Roy’s news chan­nel and dodges the police’s attempts to track down his loca­tion by switch­ing SIM cards and using re-rout­ed mobile phones. He sees the city through tele­vi­sion, he does not seek his ene­mies on the streets of the city. His ensu­ing tele­phon­ic duel with the com­mis­sion­er begins to resem­ble Paul Virilo’s con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of inter­na­tion­al war­fare as an “opti­cal con­fronta­tion” which involves “see­ing,” “forsee­ing” and “not being able to see”, and “where win­ning is try­ing to keep the ene­my in con­stant sight” (244).

The state’s rel­a­tive incom­pe­tence in terms of infor­ma­tion­al technologies—although we also wit­ness urgent counter-sur­veil­lance attempts in the war room and the use of a hacker—is also con­veyed through the vigilante’s splen­did, sin­gu­lar still­ness, stark­ly in con­trast with a “series of fast paced, sharply edit­ed shots of the com­mis­sion­er pac­ing the police sta­tion, direct­ing his offi­cers over the phone as they fran­ti­cal­ly try to detect bombs in crowd­ed malls and train sta­tions” (Mukher­jee 244). As men­tioned above, the tech­nique of cross-cut­ting enables the audi­ence not only to wit­ness par­al­lel lines of action occur­ring simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, but also to appre­ci­ate the vast­ly dif­fer­ent affec­tive domains occu­pied by the state and the pro­tag­o­nist.

Aamir imag­ines the dread­ful metrop­o­lis through an econ­o­my of vis­i­bil­i­ty that can be under­stood in exact oppo­si­tion of the panop­ti­cal mod­el of A Wednes­day. Here, the many seen and unseen eyes sur­veil the one belea­guered hero Aamir—a reverse con­fig­u­ra­tion that Thomas Math­iesen has famous­ly called the Syn­op­ti­con (1997). Aamir charts the spaces of Bom­bay not only through car­togra­phies of sur­veil­lance but also ren­ders it com­plete­ly para­noid. Notably, for Freud (2003), para­noia is a patho­log­i­cal state inti­mate­ly con­nect­ed to the fear of being looked at. Aamir’s ter­ror esca­lates not only as he under­stands the nature of the scruti­ny he is under—an entire city is oper­at­ing as a well-coor­di­nat­ed machine, the omni­scient eyes and ears of the Big Brother—but also because his life has been reduced to a data mine already avail­able to the ter­ror net­work. The bhai calm­ly recounts every detail of Aamir’s exis­tence to him, rein­forc­ing the pow­er of sur­veil­lance and data gath­er­ing as a process that has begun even before the film com­mences. Because it uses sur­veil­lance as nar­ra­tive con­tent, Aamir can be under­stood as a film about regimes of vis­i­bil­i­ty. Dozens of high-angle shots in which we see Aamir mean­der­ing through crowd­ed lanes and mohal­las (neigh­bor­hoods) ren­der him dwarfed and vul­ner­a­ble, but strict­ly vis­i­ble at all times; these bird’s-eye shots are not nec­es­sar­i­ly attrib­uted to spe­cif­ic observers, they remain free float­ing point-of-view shots with­out a spe­cif­ic view­ing subject—a tech­nique that rein­forces the impres­sion of the entire city as a ter­ri­fy­ing scop­ic regime. Poten­tial­ly every shot of Aamir nego­ti­at­ing the city-maze could be a care­ful­ly trun­cat­ed point-of-view shot, a tech­nique that makes every scene watch­ful, sen­tient. Occa­sion­al­ly, we share Aamir’s fear­ful gaze as he looks around him, watch­es faces that press in on all sides, and, peo­ple stand­ing in bal­conies and win­dows of the derelict build­ings that tow­er over him (see fig. 10). The edit­ing under­scores this para­noid rela­tion­ship to the city as quick cuts give us brief, dis­em­bod­ied glimpses of faces that may or may not belong to the bhai’s many ‘inform­ers.’ The ever-present mobile phone—in the film’s visu­al uni­verse almost every­one con­stant­ly speaks into these—also cre­ates a domain of sur­veil­lance and the con­stant trans­mis­sion of infor­ma­tion; what­ev­er Aamir does, whether he com­plies or dis­obeys the spec­tral com­mands, is instant­ly con­veyed to the bhai (see fig. 11). The city and the citizens—all of whom in this para­noid frame­work become by default the bhai’s minions—function as a net­worked total­i­ty: a web of infor­ma­tion that sur­rounds Aamir and holds him enmeshed in its invis­i­ble embrace. The bhai, thus, rules over the city through his con­trol of visual/aural ter­rains; his absolute author­i­ty is ensured by absolute scruti­ny.

Fig. 10

Fig. 11

Hin­di pop­u­lar cinema’s romance with the city of Bom­bay has under­gone sev­er­al dis­tinct iter­a­tions; through all the phas­es how­ev­er, the city has always offered spaces of redemp­tion and rehabilitation—spaces of respite, sanc­tu­ary and solace for filmic pro­tag­o­nists. After a series of ter­ror attacks in recent decades and fol­low­ing mas­sive trans­for­ma­tions in the socio-eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal spheres in India, the city is no longer fig­urable only as a lib­er­at­ing space of moder­ni­ty and glob­al­i­ty. Recent Bol­ly­wood cin­e­ma now inter­ro­gates its rela­tion­ship with India’s most icon­ic metrop­o­lis through nar­ra­tives of death, destruc­tion and actu­al or poten­tial cat­a­stro­phe. Films such as Aamir and A Wednes­day, among many oth­ers, pro­vide us with a priv­i­leged point of entry into the cin­e­mat­ic metrop­o­lis as con­sti­tu­tive­ly and foun­da­tion­al­ly trans­formed by a new era of glob­al­iza­tion and ter­ror­ism. Bombay—once the beloved metrop­o­lis of Bom­bay cin­e­ma, the site where the dreams of the nation were most com­pelling­ly artic­u­lat­ed, where dreams could some­times be realized—has come to stand in for fail­ure of the mod­ern state in India. Bom­bay has become a dread­ful, dystopic, cin­e­mat­ic nightmare—a met­ro­pol­i­tan ruin.

Works Cited

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Freud, Sig­mund. The Uncan­ny. New York: Pen­guin Clas­sics, 2003. Print.

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Mas­su­mi, Bri­an. “The Future Birth of the Affec­tive Fact: The Polit­i­cal Ontol­ogy of Threat.” In Gregg and Seig­worth, eds. The Affect The­o­ry Read­er. Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2010. 52-70. Print.

Math­iesen, Thomas.” The View­er Soci­ety: Michel Foucault’s ‘Panop­ti­con’ Revis­it­ed.” In The­o­ret­i­cal Crim­i­nol­o­gy 1 (2) (1997). 215-34. Print.

Mazum­dar, Rna­jani. “Spec­ta­cle and Death in the City of Bom­bay Cin­e­ma.”  Prakash and Kruse (Eds.), The Spaces of the Mod­ern City: Imag­i­nar­ies, Pol­i­tics, and Every­day Life Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2008.  401-432. Print.

Mehta, S. Max­i­mum City: Bom­bay Lost and Found. New York: Vin­tage Books, 2005. Print.

Mukher­jee, Rahul. “A Reply To Ter­ror­ism on a Wednes­day: A Cit­i­zen Vigilante’s Pre­scrip­tions for Gov­ern­ing Ter­ror­ism.” In Sarai Read­er 08: Fear. Del­hi: CSDS, 2005.  242-247 Print..

Prasad, M.  “Real­ism and Fan­ta­sy in Rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Life in Indi­an Cin­e­ma.”  Kaarsholm, ed. City Flicks: Indi­an Cin­e­ma and the Urban Expe­ri­ence. (pp. 83-99). Kolkata: Seag­ull Books. Print.

Seig­worth, Gre­go­ry and Gregg, Melis­sa. “An Inven­to­ry of Shim­mers.” Gregg and Seig­worth, (.” eds. The Affect The­o­ry Read­er. Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2010. 1-25. Print.

Tan­vir, Kuhu. “Myth, Leg­end, Con­spir­a­cy: Urban Ter­ror in Aamir and Del­hi 6.” In Sarai Read­er 08: Fear. Del­hi: CSDS, 2008.  248-253. Print.

Vasude­van, Ravi. “The Exhil­a­ra­tion of Dread: Genre, Nar­ra­tive Form and Film Style in Con­tem­po­rary Urban Action Films.” In Sarai Read­er 02: The Cities of Every­day Life. (Del­hi: CSDS, 2002.  58-67. Print.


Notes

[1] In Biswas’s read­ing, this new kind of “nat­u­ral­ism is fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent from, say, a neo­re­al­ist film where vision could flow from the sparse every­day objects to the nat­ur­al hori­zon with rel­a­tive ease. A sur­feit of objects is offered to the eye. The under­world, seen in this per­spec­tive, is a seem­ing­ly end­less study of faces, ges­tures, speech and action, built upon the modes of hum­drum urban street life and sub­al­tern liv­ing made famil­iar pri­mar­i­ly through tele­vi­sion.” (online)

[2] Rahul Mukher­jee has not­ed that iron­i­cal­ly, bomb blasts accom­pa­nied the release of A Wednes­day in sev­er­al cities across India (243).

[3] While this his­to­ry of vio­lence informs the films’ tem­po­ral imag­i­na­tion of Bom­bay, the plots adhere to strict dead­lines; both films fea­ture mul­ti­ple lines of action which move in a lin­ear fash­ion toward the cli­max. The plots remain faith­ful to the clock, the ren­di­tion of the city as an affec­tive domain does not. In oth­er words, here I am mak­ing a cru­cial dis­tinc­tion between plot-time—which oper­ate under unyield­ing dead­lines in each case—and the tem­po­ral fig­u­ra­tion of the city of Bom­bay.

[4] What we have here is an excel­lent exam­ple of what has been called “hap­tic visu­al­i­ty” in recent media theories—a way of view­ing that engages mul­ti­ple sens­es. Aamir’s images con­stant­ly chal­lenge the spec­ta­tor to mobi­lize our senses—to see, touch and smell the night­mar­ish world that Aamir finds him­self trapped with­in.

[5] Kuhu Tan­vir also com­ments on the film’s lack of domes­tic spaces and home­li­ness: “Aamir is the only upper-class mod­er­ate Mus­lim the film has, and it is there­fore worth not­ing that his pri­vate space is not shown almost at all, except for one short, imag­ined scene when he recalls call­ing home and speak­ing to his fam­i­ly. When com­pared to the way in which oth­er, pub­lic, appar­ent­ly non-sec­u­lar spaces are mapped in the film, this scene, which is bare­ly a few sec­onds long, can be eas­i­ly for­got­ten (249).

[6] Aamir’s return with the red suit­case through the slaugh­ter­house is also shot with the fore­bod­ing song, “Haara Haara” puls­ing on the sound­track, enforc­ing Aamir’s acute sense of entrap­ment.

[7] Moinak Biswas, for exam­ple, has argued in a recent essay that Aamir’s invo­ca­tion of the uncan­ny hinges on the man­ner in which the screen “looks back” at us. When the seen—in this case the dense, diegetic world of the film—returns our gaze, a deep sense of dis­com­fi­ture is gen­er­at­ed. (226)

[8] Gilles Deleuze’s con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of “soci­eties of con­trol” offers anoth­er valu­able frame­work for under­stand­ing the impre­cise, flex­i­ble and occlud­ed nature of pow­er in films like Aamir and A Wednes­day. Accord­ing to Deleuze, we have now moved from what Foucault’s calls dis­ci­pli­nary societies—where laws are rep­re­sent­ed by the enclosed and con­fined spaces of the prison, fac­to­ry, hos­pi­tal, etc.—to a more open, dis­persed and free float­ing form of con­trol in late cap­i­tal­ism, that is no less unfor­giv­ing. Under the aegis of the glob­al mar­ket con­trol is “con­tin­u­ous and with­out lim­it” while the indi­vid­ual is mere­ly a “divid­ual”— “undu­la­to­ry, in orbit, in a con­tin­u­ous net­work” (6). Two aspects of Deleuze’s argu­ment are espe­cial­ly per­ti­nent to the present discussion—the simul­ta­ne­ous ubiq­ui­ty and dis­per­sive nature of pow­er, and, the impos­si­bil­i­ty of dodg­ing its con­stant­ly mutat­ing oper­a­tions. The per­va­sive nature of con­trol is telling­ly appar­ent in, for exam­ple, Aamir’s futile attempt to slip past the net­work of mobile phones that con­sti­tutes the infor­mat­ic straight­jack­et of the city. It is of lit­tle con­se­quence in this respect if the state sur­veils the indi­vid­ual or non-state actors. In the cur­rent media ecol­o­gy, the indi­vid­ual is always strict­ly with­in net­work.


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