It's difficult to write about this movie, because ultimately I feel like my thoughts are uninteresting and not of great value compared to two other stories; the one in the film and the one of the film. The first, of course, being the story of Mumbai blasts in 1993 and the investigation that proceeded - the events that created further tension between Hindu and Muslim groups, a tension that exists to this day and has since resulted in several outbursts of violence. The relevance and the significance of this are unquestionable. The second, the tale of how director Anurag Kashyap's docu-drama about these events got to be made and eventually, after much difficulty, released, is another very interesting one. It ties into all kinds of questions about the true nature of Indian film-making; the difficulties of financing films with challenging stories, the censorship, artistic realism and the politics.
The reason why my own thoughts feel slightly irrelevant next to all of this is simply because I don't feel like I know enough to tie my thoughts into these relevant issues the film highlights - or the controversies that rose from it highlight. But then, perhaps despite the fact that this is not the usual Indian film I view (very commercial, with stars and dance numbers to some extent at least), I should simply review it as such.
Black Friday portrays the story from two perspectives, the perpetrators and the policemen, the helplessness and immorality on both sides of the fence. The only actor I recognized and knew by name in the movie was KK Menon as the police officer appointed to lead the investigation. He does his usual good job, especially as the police result to drastic measures to get answers out of people. The struggle of the character is clear.
Another actor that stood out was Pavan Malhotra as Tiger Memon, the gangster-turned-businessman who pulls the strings of the entire blast operation and covers his traces with calculating ease. I don't know if truth is stranger than fiction, but reality is certainly scarier than tales of villains in films. Forget Gabbar Singh, the true big bad of modern day is fanaticism and the way it comes off from some of the speeches of the character - based, as all characters, on a real person - is frightening.
The film is overall solidly executed on all accounts. I adore the cinematography, making Mumbai out a dusty metropolis with slums and train stations, artificial lighting and crowded streets. The music and song lyrics compliment the shots perfectly and seem to convey the messages that the film otherwise avoids making. The chronology of the narrative is a little messed up - you basically find out the story as it becomes evident to the investigators, but the jumps in time can be confusing at first.
My only complaint with the film might be that the length and the narrative make the film slow-paced at times. Perhaps it's simply a trait of the genre; docu-dramas aren't usually the type of films that suck you in and fail to let you go, especially if you're not exactly too learned on the topic matter (I only knew the basics going in). I wasn't dying to see how the film ended, but wanted to get there anyhow.
As a finishing note, I am reminded of something I once read in a Bollywood online community: "Watching Indian films tells you about India as little as eating samosas does." While it's true that there is no way cinema can be a comprehensive, definitive source of information, it has to be said that films can guide one to find out about certain things and provide food for thought. This film is based on a book by Hussain Zaidi. Perhaps that's where I'll head next.