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On a list of wonderful films that almost never saw the light of day, Black Fridaywould surely figure prominently. Completed in 2004, Kashyap’s first wide release was intended to screen at Cannes (where it did) before a wider release (which it didn’t, at least not in 2004). Kashyap had to wait until February 2007 for his remarkable entry to finally be released in India and the United States. Even after three event-filled years in the “war on terror,” Kashyap’s take on the mutation of modern terrorism on the Indian subcontinent retains its freshness. Kashyap has succeeded in making a brilliant “mockumentary” that transforms the real-life events leading up to the 1993 Mumbai terrorist bomb blasts into a razor sharp apolitical-but-not-border-free chronology.
Kashyap’s cleverly disjointed story juxtaposes several points of view simultaneously. The law-enforcement angle is rolled out on the heels of Rakesh Maria (Menon), a smart Mumbai detective who strings together tantalizing and often far-fetched clues to recreate the crimes. Parallel to Maria’s urban dragnet, Kashyap also gives dramatic flair to a vast terrorist conspiracy recreated from actual court testimony by the culprits, many of who were eventually put to trial.
What elevates Black Friday from many Hindi films is the superb characterization. The script is almost totally devoid of Hindu-vs. -Muslim religio-pomposity that often reduces many of the most wanted Hindi film terrorists to pulp fiction caricatures. Kashyap’s hard work at accurately recreating historical events handsomely works in the filmmaker’s favor. Instead of frothy anti-oppression tirades, Kashyap opts for a detached, clinical accompaniment to Maria’s team in building their case. The camera happens to be along almost as an afterthought.
The other rare treat is the portrayal of Dawood Ibrahim (played by Rao) as the mastermind behind this conspiracy. Rao’s Ibrahim is a smartly dressed, mysterious half-shadow true to the real Ibrahim’s fleetingly captured popular images. Safe in his Middle Eastern, decidedly non-Indian, perch where his criminal tentacles have set up a de facto government within legitimate government, Ibrahim and his cohort Tiger Memon (well played by Malhotra), set into motion a plan that ended up killing more then 300 and injured hundreds more on that fateful March morning.
In the Indian psyche, Dawood Ibrahim conjures up roughly the same anti-iconography that Osama bin Laden does in the United States. As India’s semi-official Public Enemy No. 1, Ibrahim’s trail of dastardly deeds is long and wantonly cruel. Kashyap connects the right dots in making us believe how a one-time petty cross-border smuggler turned into one of the most wanted men on the planet. The talented writer Kashyap (Yuva, Satya) has done wonders with one of his first directorial ventures. Black Friday easily ranks with Santosh Sivan’s superb 1999 entry The Terrorist and Gulzar’s fascinating Maachis as one of the finest films in the genre. Great stuff, this!
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.