June 26, 2009 6:17:48 pm
Director: Kabir Khan
The new smart catch-phrase in post-Obama America is post-racial. Which,to those whove suffered slurs in the name of race,is pure bunkum. On the same lines,Prez Os talk of closing down of Guantanamo Bay is a great gesture,but it will take years before the world forgets why that penitentiary was stuffed with suspected terrorists.
Kabir Khans New York is about three friends impacted by the fallout of 9/11: it was not just the twin towers which were destroyed; a whole way of life died too. Americans began looking at people not of their nationality and religion with hatred and deep suspicion: if they are brown and worshipped Allah,they were terrorists.
Sam aka Samir (John),Omar (Mukesh),and Maya (Katrina) meet as students at New York State U. They hang out on campus,in pubs,but never seem to go to class: just shows that even New Gen directors are reluctant to show heroes getting an education.
In the best Bollywood tradition,this is a triangle: Omar loves Maya who loves Sam. They watch the planes crash into the towers in shock and horrorOmar goes his way,the other two get hitched.
Years later,the FBI in the shape of Roshan (Irrfan) surfaces in the threesomes lives,with a shocking revelation: one of them is the kingpin of a sleeper terrorist organization,and the other has to turn into an FBI informer.
Khans subject feels a little old (theres been a ton of 9/11 related stuff in the last eight years,including Naseerudins debut 2006 feature Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota ),but it is still relevant.
That relevance carries the well-produced,well-photographed film some of its distance: in the way that Samir is detained and tortured for nine months without a shred of evidence (some of the most affecting scenes in the movies),in the way that Omars loyalties are never swayed even when he knows which path his friend is treading on,and in the way the Indian FBI operative upholds the values of American democracy even when he knows its loopholes and weaknessthese give the film a certain heft.
But where it falters is in the way its screenplay turns fluffyyes,we know its Yashraj,and yes,we know that the lovely Kat needs to sing songs along with her hunky co-stars,but it takes away from the necessary tautness a thriller like this requires.
Theres also a remarkable lack of tension even when people are being shot,and bombs are being placed,with the finger a hair-trigger away: Khans debut feature Kabul Express was much tighter.
Of the four actors,Irrfans pasta-hating,I-love-America cop is most credible; Neils naïve immigrant is a nice turn too. John and Katrina are their usual selves even when transplanted a whole continent away.
I came away with a couple of well articulated if not madly original speeches on the value of the kind of freedom which can take a Muslim,or a person of colour,places in America. But at no point did I grip the edge of my seat.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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