There’s a strange tepidness at the heart of Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s film, Saturday Afternoon (Shonibar Bikel). Given the charged terrain it walks through, the film is bogged down from the get-go by its declamatory approach to picking apart what it wishes to say. Farooki’s screenplay leaches the inherently dramatic situation of any prickly tension and coasts it with contrived, lazily conceived dissections of ideology, making it jammed with an off-putting, utterly-bored-with-itself series of exchanges.
Inspired by a real-life 2016 terror attack, the film peers at a couple of hours inside a restaurant in Dhaka when a bunch of extremists hold hostage a mix of people from varied nationalities. Quickly, the film disposes of anyone from nationalities other than Bangladeshis and the lone Indian whose concealed identity generates the central narrative tension. The dialogues with which it does away with these people, in which the terrorists hold them accountable for their nation’s misdeeds, sound like they are plucked in the manner of an ideological axe-grinding unpersuasively pasted onto the script.
Sample the dialogues that border on the most flabbergasting interactions. Someone pleads to be let off, saying they are peace-loving Buddhists, at which the terrorists lash out and demand culpability for the killings in Myanmar. An “anti-war activist” is schooled on the crimes of the Western military. All of it comes off as stodgy and almost embarrassingly inane, like the kind of stuff that wouldn’t make it past even one round in a workshop.
The chief problem with the film is it’s gratingly uninterested in either side. Characterization is traded for the routine wrath of the extremists against apostasy, as they screen the hostages on a metric of loyalty to the Islamic code, which they believe to be paramount. Who is the pious, good Muslim? The grilling proceeds on these fronts. However, by sticking to these incensed rants, the film keeps straying from displaying any complexity or conundrum in its characters.
A key exchange between a terrorist and a hostage who recognizes him is handled so poorly, the focus perplexingly shifting on a cigarette end flaking off; the scene has barely any human frisson. It leads one to wonder what, if at all there’s any, drives the film. It’s head-scratchingly dull as to how the film views the meaning and purpose of true Islam, blandly pitting it between binaries and even spelling it out in the climax in the most reductionist manner.
The hectoring tone it adopts to interrogating the hijab, the Islamic and Western model of femininity, fares even worse. Raisa (Nusrat Tisha) is made to bear this brunt as she is beleaguered repeatedly by the terrorists, provoked into arguing about the burqa and the implications of women’s economic freedom. The ideal image of Muslim womanhood and the preservation of her honor gets customarily trussed about in a lengthy, painfully laborious stretch as Raisa is harried and she gets braver at speaking out, at one point calling out to presumably the head of the mission, a bespectacled sober looking guy whose presence registers as wholly inconsequential.
Actually, all of the terrorists, including their occasional quibbles over the plans they need to take recourse to, are written paper thin. We don’t get any sense of their inner life, or a shred about their contexts, or the slightest whiff of any psychological fumbles. It slots them as a bunch of pissed-off monomaniacs, which increasingly becomes tiring to watch and actively alienates our interest. The acting across the board is maudlin and hammy, though the fault leans more toward the progressively bad writing, which keeps making us almost not want to care for any of the trapped individuals or even fleetingly invested in this tense situation.
Aziz Zhambakiev’s camera shuttles through rooms and up the stairs but never quite extracts any palpable urgency. Everyone seems only mildly interested and mostly removed from the fraught drama that erupts on the scene. Mercifully, things wrap within ninety minutes, and the blood-spattered denouement fails to strike any explosive, poignant note. The recurring impression Saturday Afternoon gives is only how even it is aware of its own minor, misplaced ambition if one can grant it such dignity.