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Interview Hindi

10 years of A Wednesday: Director Neeraj Pandey recalls making of the ‘Stupid Common Man’

The film, starring Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher, is still remembered for portraying the anguish of the Common Man.

Naseeruddin Shah in A Wednesday.

Keyur Seta

Stories about a protagonist thrashing the bad guys and turning out to be a nightmare for the system have been aplenty in mainstream Hindi cinema. For such a character, you generally visualise a hunky hero with the strength of a lion. But director Neeraj Pandey’s debut A Wednesday (2008) broke such stereotypes.

Here the ‘hero’ is a senior citizen who can barely run. But that doesn’t stop him from taking on the system and finishing off terrorists who killed innocents in the 2007 Mumbai serial train bomb blasts. And the ‘hero’ didn’t have a fancy name. In fact, he didn’t have a name. He was just an anonymous ‘Stupid Common Man.’

But apart from being a thrilling ride, A Wednesday portrayed the pain and anguish of the common citizens and warned the system for taking for granted common citizens, who suffer needlessly for their ‘chalta hai’ attitude.

Neeraj Pandey

As the film completes 10 years today (5 September 2018), director spoke to Cinestaan.com exclusively, as he looked back at the film's making process.

While highlighting the importance of A Wednesday, he said, "My journey as a writer and director and our journey as producers with Friday Filmworks started with this film. So, it’s very special. It’s very inspiring and humbling that people still see it, I still get an odd message on the phone and people talk about it. It sort of reinforces a simple thing that if you are convinced about an idea, execute it the way you want and get the freedom to do that, it pays off.”

It was the helplessness of the common citizens that compelled him to write A Wednesday. “Basically, it was the train blasts that triggered [the idea] and the way we were angry about it and felt so helpless. Actually the word is helpless. It was a strange emotion of anger, hurt, pain and anxiety,” he said.

A still from A Wednesday

Pandey also narrated the interesting story behind Shah coming on board for the project. "I had sent the script to him and had written my phone number on the last page. I thought if he reads till the last page and likes the script, he will call as well,” said Pandey. “That has been my habit till date. I was waiting for his response. One fine evening at 10.30pm I got a call from a landline and it turned out to be his number. He had just finished reading it.”

The length of the script became crucial as Shah picked it up to read. “He read it because that evening he wanted to read something small in terms of pages. And A Wednesday’s script was quite thin. Out of the pile of scripts he had, he pulled out the thinnest which turned out to be A Wednesday. He keeps telling me till date that it’s good that I didn’t write a lengthy script else he might not have read it,” Pandey laughed.

Once Shah came on board, signing Anupam Kher as Mumbai’s police commissioner became easy. “Kher sahab was the other person I wanted on board so I met him. He also read the script. Fortunately, both of them were excited and wanted to be a part of it,” recalled the filmmaker.

A still from A Wednesday

Till the pre-climax, A Wednesday appeared like a regular story of a terrorist taking the city hostage. However, the film travels in a different zone once Shah’s character reveals his true intentions. It took just one moment for the audience to start supporting him after abhorring him in the beginning. Pandey revealed the importance of that scene.

“That sequence was the essence, spine and soul of the film. It’s not that I took any pressure when I was writing but I knew that we had to sum up the film in this sequence,” he said. He was sure Shah would slay it. “We had reading sessions before we went on the floors. Around the fourth or fifth reading, I was pretty much sure that Naseer bhai has nailed it. He was so prepared. It was an exercise that I loved watching. I still recall it with a lot of learning.”

A lot of people advised Pandey to trim down the eight pages of dialogue for that scene. “I told Naseer bhai that all these people are asking me to trim it down but I am not in favour of trimming down even a word. He said, ‘No no, let us do and see.’ So, both of us were convinced that we will go with it the way we want to. It paid off because of the conviction,” he recalled.

Pandey also revealed that right before writing the film, he was sure he wouldn’t give a name to Shah’s character because, as said in the film, ‘Aadmi naam ke saath mazhab jod dete hai.’ “There was always no name. He was called ‘Anonymous’ in the script of the film. That was the idea. Till date I don’t know what religion is. It’s as simple as that,” said Pandey.

When asked about his own faith in the Common Man, he was quick to say, “I personally have a clear understanding that every person on the face of earth is capable of doing extraordinary things. It’s just that we have to tap into it, sometimes by will and sometimes by chance,” he said. “Each one of us is unique. We all have the ability to do the unthinkable or impossible. And you keep reading about these extraordinary tales.”

Although this is the era of sequels, Pandey is strictly against the thought of making one for A Wednesday. “I have never thought and I will never think of it. According to me, the story is over where it ended,” he concluded.