The "plot" is, by now, known to all of us: on March 12, 1993 ten bombs went off in quick succession at prominent locations in Bombay, killing hundreds and injuring thousands, the latest in a series of calamities to hit a city still sullen in the aftermath of vicious communal violence and pogroms over the preceding few months. The blasts were the handiwork of Muslim criminals, masterminded by one of Dawood Ibrahim's lieutenants, "Tiger" Memon, and executed by assorted individuals, many of them petty criminals and victims of communal violence, all of them aggrieved by the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and the ensuing communal violence, which in Bombay occurred in two waves, the second of which was little other than a pogrom against Muslims organized by the Shiv Sena and abetted by numerous elements in the state machinery, including the police, both by outright connivance and criminal indifference. Until September 11, 2001, the "Black Friday" blasts constituted quite simply the deadliest terrorist attack ever.
Director Anurag Kashyap's film (based on a book by journalist Husain Zaidi) isn't narrowly focused on any one aspect of the story, and jumps between the police investigation in the blasts' aftermath; the story of Badshah Khan (Aditya Srivastava), one of the perpetrators; and the "back story" leading up to March 12, 1993. The film thus has an episodic, even jerky, quality, regularly "returning" to a number of repetitive (and harrowing) police interrogation sequences presided over by Inspector Rakesh Maria (Kay Kay), who has been assigned the task of cracking the case. In short, if you're looking for a linear (or even coherent) plot, Black Friday is not the film for you.
And yet the film is nevertheless a remarkable triumph of ambience and tone: Kashyap draws the viewer so relentlessly into the world of the blasts accused and of the cops focused on nabbing them that the dominant experience of watching this film is claustrophobia (though Kashyap's vision seems downright uninteresting in the sequences set outside Bombay, including in a caricature of a terrorist training camp). Kashyap achieves his Bombay-centric claustrophobia by means of a disturbing "neutrality" that puts his film at the frontier where films meet documentaries. One tells oneself that this couldn't really be a documentary, that no-one really is privy to (for instance) Dawood Ibrahim's conversations with "Tiger" Memon -- but it doesn't matter, as Kashyap's vision wears the viewer down, until the latter simply accepts the film, not just as film but as "truth." Simultaneously, Kashyap disorients the viewer by refusing to pass judgment, either on any of the accused (thereby enabling the "backstory" of the blasts and the motivations of the plotters to stand on their own terms) or on the cops (and the methods utilized by them) on their trail. The result of such commitment to a matter-of-fact tone is a deeply psychotic film, one in which the actions of both policemen and terrorists ultimately come to appear -- shockingly -- "normal."
But Black Friday is far from being a morally relativist work, bookended as it is by a quote of Mahatma Gandhi: "An eye for an eye makes the world go blind." The quote clues us into the fact that for Kashyap the blasts are not merely a singular event, Big Bang as it were, but are the product of a history, forming part of a tit-for-tat cycle of violence in which the blasts themselves are hardly the last word ("Bombay is now Mumbai" the film drily notes at the end, perhaps mocking the naivete of the likes of "Tiger" Memon, who believed that the blasts offered a permanent "solution" to the problem of anti-Muslim violence; surely the state's utter failure to control either the communal violence in Maharashtra or to demonstrate its competence in tackling terrorism played a crucial role in the rise of the Shiv-Sena/BJP combine to power in the state; one of the new dispensation's symbolically most powerful acts was the renaming of Bombay). Gandhi, it turns out, was wiser. Kashyap approaches the mentality that believes violence is the answer with the mindset of a Newtonian physicist: in his view violence will beget equal and "opposite" violence, in an unendingly grim spiral to hell. There can be no solution, indeed there is no way for the film to offer a programmatic antidote without crossing the line into farce, and a deeply offensive one at that. Kashyap pays his audience the respect it is owed, and does not offer any: he simply offers his violence equation to the audience, and lets it percolate once the film is over.
Black Friday can be highly offensive, not because of its language or frank depictions of police brutality, but because Kashyap's refusal to take sides means that the police and D-company all end up in the same boat, as mirror images of each other (I repeat, not because Kashyap is a moral relativist but because he sees both sorts of violence as feeding off of, and magnifying, each other). That's disorienting and deeply upsetting, but in the context of this film amounts to a compulsive viewing experience, a train wreck from which one cannot avert one's eyes.