(Instead of the usual blank spaces to reduce the inadvertent-spoiler-sighting, here's some mindless trivia that resulted from the movie. The post resumes after this.)
Towards the end of the movie, I noticed an actor who looked familiar. Being interested in the lesser known world of Bollywood background fillers, I carefully read his name from the credits: Uday Chandra. I had seen a little bit of Basu Chatterjee's Baaton Baaton Mein the previous day, and I knew who this was - "Henry", who suffers in his unspoken love for Tina Munim's character. When I mentioned "Henry" to George, he said: "Oh, Mazhar Khan?". Turns out the actor formerly famous as "Abdul" was "Henry", and not my bloke! So where had I seen Uday Chandra? Another little bulb pops somewhere. I had also revisited Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro the previous week (both movies having been kindly provided by Yasho). This was Duryodhana! (behind the moustache and ab drama mujhe hii sambhaalnaa hogaa).
It turns out that Uday Chandra has appeared in several films by Vidhu Vinod Chopra (a co-JBDY associate), and some may even recall him in Mission Kashmir. It also turns out that he dropped out of IIT, took up music and acting, went to FTII, acted as Saigal in a play, learns music from a guru in Pune. Even the most )seemingly innocent) inhabitant of screen space can have an interesting tale to tell.
Back to Aamir. Many reviews (example) have pointed out several aspects of the story that end up distracting from the positives. In addition, mid-way, the pace of the film becomes sluggish, which is sad for a film that is just 90 minutes long. More than the puzzling choice of reluctant bomber, the ending was less than satisfying. Aamir wants to prove that he can impose his own will even in such constricting circumstances (viewers will recall the opening lines of the film), but why should that choice be clutching the case as it blew to smitheerens? Leading upto that moment, the (astute) viewer will already have begun to consider possible endings. Such as:
One, Aamir succumbs and lets the bus be blown up.
Two, he becomes the "hero" (the moral 'hero', mind you) and saves others, while blowing himself up.
Third (most unlikely, given what we had already seen), he becomes the 'filmy hero' and turns the tables on the anonymous menace.
Or even Four (sort of a MacGuffin), where there is indeed no bomb, and this is one big scare by Gajraj Rao's character to sensitise the secularised professional to the pressing needs of the community, to whose plight he has been awakened to.
IMO, Options 1 and 4 need a lot of guts to write in and present. Option 2 is the easy way out, and though it sustains drama, it does not achieve anything beyond perhaps some sympathy for the now wasted life of Aamir. 4 would have been very interesting. Though it may seem sort of like a "it was all a dream" cop-out, but it would have had the advantages of tying in a positive slant and importantly, also avoiding a slightly dangerous side-effect. The way the narrative pans out, so many people are involved in the bombing conspiracy. A PCO operator, several hoteliers and waiters, hoodlums, not so innocent gawkers (and there's a lot of gawking in this movie) - it's as if the entire "qaum" was in on it. Is that the impression the makers wanted to leave us with?
Personally, I would have liked to see Option 1: Aamir puts his family above lots of people he's never met before, underlining the helplessness that permeates the movie. That would have presented a much more compelling dilemma than what we ended up with, which left us focusing on exactly why anyone so ruthless as the dark mastermind would run a risky operation as strategic as any of Adenoid Hynkel's.
Several years ago, I watched a televised short story where Shekhar Kapur played the role of an avaricious executive who is visited by a "Yaksha". This figure makes him an offer, which Kapur's character feels unable to refuse. The offer was: I'll pay you an immense amount of money. If you accept, as a consequence, somewhere someone will die. You won't even know who that was. Do you accept? Kapur accepts and this leads to a lot of soul-searching. Unlike this story, Aamir never hits the highs in dealing with such possible moral complications. Which is why we are left discussing what Aamir could have been.