Monday, December 25, 2006

Kabul Express

First, I salute Kabir Khan – the writer / director, a former war correspondent himself, who had visited Afghanistan several times prior to filming Kabul Express there. It’s the first movie to be shot extensively in Afghanistan after 9/11. And despite several attempts to dissuade him, including by the producers and the Taliban, he stuck by his guns (pun intended)….Second, I salute YRF (Yash Raj Films) for having the courage to produce this movie – it’s a rarity for Bollywood cinema, almost an art film but featuring 2 very bankable stars. The first week gross of almost Rs 8 cr, despite a very limited release in the NCR region, also gives me hope and contradicts the myth that Indian audiences do not appreciate quality films.

This is a war story about a few interesting human beings. It’s a simple story, well told, littered with excellent one-liners that make you laugh louder than most Bollywood ‘comedies’. And it doesn’t lecture us or pontificate but lets each individual figure out his or her own ‘moral of the story’. Can’t believe it’s the same John Abraham from the ham-handed Baabul…

Jai Kapoor (Arshad Warsi) and Suhel Khan (John Abraham) are journalists who land in Afghanistan searching for an interview with the Taliban – to shoot themselves and their channel into prominence. Along the way they meet Khyber, an Afghan, who becomes their driver and guide, in his Toyota jeep aptly named Kabul Express. They also meet Jessica Beckham, an American ‘veteran’ war journalist, also looking to interview the Taliban. And finally, they meet Imran Khan Afridi, a Talibani / Pakistani soldier. Together they spend almost 48 hours, in which they encounter amongst others, the Mujahideen, American soldiers, the Hazara (an Afghan tribe), Pakistani soldiers and a suicidal donkey.

This is more a story about the people than the war itself. Its set in late 2001, just after the American bombing, when the Taliban are fleeing the country. It doesn’t try to take sides, at least not in the Michael Moore one-sided fashion, but enables us to understand or at least tries to make us understand what the different people are trying to do, what brought them there, what do they want now etc. The movie also proves a theory of mine – that even in Bollywood, with a little bit of effort / intelligence and not a lot of screen time, you can establish and flesh out some characters quite easily. My favourite example is Jaya Bachchan in Sholay – I don’t think she occupied more than 15 minutes of screen time in an epic which lasted more than three hours. However, we get to know enough about her in that little time to be able to understand her, to be able to feel sympathy for her situation and finally weep for her…It’s the same here – we develop a bond with each of the five central characters, we feel for them and most importantly, we enjoy having met them.

The screenplay is excellent – like I mentioned above, excellent character development and some lovely one-liners. From memory here’s a sample, as Jessica joins Suhel / Jai / Khyber for dinner.
Suhel : So what will you have for dinner ?
Jessica : Wow ! As if there is a choice ? Here its kababs for breakfast, kababs for lunch and then for dinner, its kababs again. And if you feel hungry in the middle and you want a snack, you guessed it, its kababs again !
Khyber (who doesn’t understand a word of English): Arre, iske liye kabab manga lo, nahin to yeh saari raat chup nahin karegi…

There are also some fascinating conversations about who is a better all rounder (Kapil or Imran), which is a sweeter drink (Coke or Pepsi) and about who started the war (Afghans or Pakistani’s).

The cinematography is exceptional – rugged, serene, beautiful, there are frames where without a word being said, you really question the ‘wisdom’ of war and the sanity of our fellow human beings. The music is great – there are no songs in the movie (yes, you heard that right, its true !) but a beautiful instrumental theme which is used throughout as background music. The casting is great, Arshad Warsi continues to amaze me – see ‘Sehar’, if you want further proof of his acting ability. John is very good and there is no attempt to cash in on his 'chocolate boy' looks or image. Salman Shahid, Hanif Hum Ghum and Linda Arsenio, who complete the big five, are also very real. For the support cast, Kabir used some authentic Mujahideen / some local Afghani people and some Pakistani actors to give us an authentic flavour of Afghanistan.

What a relief to see this film, especially after the last 2 ‘disasters’ I’ve seen. Gives me renewed hope. Definitely worth a watch !

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bhagam Bhag

I wish I had run as well – in the opposite direction. I have a headache as does the rest of my family. The story has more holes than the sieves in your kitchen. The jokes are stale. The comedy is slapstick at best. The actors are wasted…I don’t know / cannot fathom why they agreed to be in this film.
The central idea was a good one – a drama company lands in London missing their heroine. The owner announces that whoever will find a suitable heroine will become the hero. However, what follows is ludicrous…insane….the attempt to give a twist at the end is also pathetic and stretches our patience.
I’m now going to struggle to find anything good in this movie. The opening song is nice (Signaal, pyaar ka signaaaaal….). And, let me think….well, no…forget it….the rest is trash.
Govinda seems to be past it – he’s lost some of the spontaneity, he looks old and tired. Other actors who are past their sell-by date but persist in torturing us in the film include Jackie Shroff and Shakti Kapoor. Lara Dutta looks good, as always but is wasted in the film along with Akshay and Paresh Rawal.
There were some people in the hall who were in splits…I feel for them. I ask you to pray for them and for the director. May God give them better taste. On second thoughts, leave the director out of it – he deserves whatever comes his way.

Friday, December 08, 2006


I’m extremely grateful that I saw this movie. This movie has made me fearless. In the future, if I’m ever being tortured, I can just think of this movie and whatever pain and suffering I’m going through, will surely pale in comparison to what I went through while watching this film !

This is an unmitigated, unadulterated disaster ! Its an impostor of a movie – even movies like Golmaal, Apna Sapna were better as at least they didn’t pretend to be something they are not…at least they gave you a few laughs…This one rides on the coat-tails of Baghbaan (I haven’t seen it but my wife and parents have and they assure me that it’s a ‘beautiful’ movie and not my type), tries to be another tearjerker but falls flat on its face – the only tears you get are due to your own pain / irritation / suffering….

The movie itself suffers from a fractured plot, completely disjointed direction, contrived situations, fake emotions, about 20 (at least they seemed that many) forced songs which had no rhyme nor reason (pun intended), artificial 'hindi movie' dialogues, a Niagara of glycerine, a plethora of characters whom we don’t get to know at all and its all as predictable as the curves of Aishwarya and Bipasha in their bikini’s in D2 (its these visuals that gave me strength during my suffering !)

We already know from the promo’s and interviews that this movie is about widowhood - hardly a new topic and there is nothing new in the treatment / plot either. Amitabh and Hema Malini are the in-laws, Salman is the son (he shares a 'very close' relationship with the father so they call each other 'Buddy' at least 50 times to establish this fact ! Extremely irritating !), Rani is the ‘bahu’….you’ll be effortlessly able to piece the rest of the film together ! This is Rani Mukherjee’s second crack at being a widow – while in ‘Hum Tum’, everything was so natural, the story was so realistic, we understood what Rani felt / what she was going through and why, here we have mannequins and completely unfathomable events / character behaviour…

The only silver lining I could find was a beautiful song (Kehta hai Baabul) sung by the Big B himself (even the music is apparently composed by him - however the audio CD version is sung by Jagjit Singh) – it features through the movie as background music and also along with the credits, which only doubled the reason to reach the end quicker.

Avoid this one like the plague – the most entertainment we got were from the comments of 2 student groups sitting around us….I’ve never seen a full movie hall empty as fast as it did when this one ended. Maybe they could use this for fire drill training !