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 !

1 comment:

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