By Taran Adarsh, IndiaFM
Let’s clear the myth pertaining to KABUL EXPRESS within the film industry!
Nasty naysayers have been text-messaging that KABUL EXPRESS is a documentary, a dry film that talks of post-Taliban days in the battered Afghanistan. Also, those looking for some cheap naach-gaana kind of entertainment in this Yashraj enterprise are bound to be disappointed since KABUL EXPRESS may star known names in its cast, but debutante director Kabir Khan, a known documentary maker, believes in enlightenment, not entertainment!
After having watched KABUL EXPRESS, all you want to do is hit the blokes hard for spreading malicious stories about the film. Agreed, KABUL EXPRESS traverses a different path and Kabir Khan is a documentary maker, but KABUL EXPRESS is not a documentary at all. It’s a ‘proper’ Hindi film -- a thriller to be precise -- that dares to tackle a difficult and different theme.
Besides the subject matter that’s its USP, the film takes you to Afghanistan -- a country most of us haven’t visited, as tourists or as moviegoers. Yes, DHARMATMA and KHUDA GAWAH did visit Afghanistan, but the post-Taliban Afghanistan hasn’t been witnessed on the Hindi screen. That makes KABUL EXPRESS a novel experience indeed!
Now to the pertinent question: Does the story hold your attention for the next 1.45 hours/12 reels?
KABUL EXPRESS is a film with different sensibilities. It’s not one of those films that depict two Indians taking on the Taliban and bashing them to pulp. It narrates the story of two Indians, one American, one Afghani and one Pakistani and what transpires in the next 48 hours. It’s straight out of life and certain moments do make you get into an introspective mood.
A film like KABUL EXPRESS is more for the elite and the thinking viewer than the aam junta. While the theme of the film is anything but stereotype, the sequence of events that lead to the climax as also the liberal usage of English and Afghani languages will restrict its appeal to multiplexes mainly. In the single screens, KABUL EXPRESS will find few takers!
Another factor that goes against the film -- in Overseas territory at least -- is the conflict between the Afghanis and Pakistanis in the film. Although director Kabir Khan may argue that he’s tried to be authentic, you cannot overlook the fact that Pakistanis -- who form a major chunk of movie-going audience in U.K. and U.S.A. -- may not give KABUL EXPRESS their mandate or whole-hearted approval because of the anti-Pak flavor.
KABUL EXPRESS is set in post 9/11 Afghanistan where the American bombing has destroyed the Taliban regime and the Taliban soldiers are trying to escape to Pakistan to avoid the wrath of the Afghans. Against this turbulent backdrop, Jai [Arshad Warsi] and Suhel [John Abraham] -- two Indian television reporters -- have entered Afghanistan and their aim is to somehow get a rare interview with a Talibani. Helping them in their pursuit of a Talibani is their Afghan guide, translator and driver Khyber [Hanif Hum Ghum] in his Toyota Jeep called Kabul Express.
The trio is having their share of adventure as they go from being blindfolded and taken to secret hideouts in the mountains to interview Taliban prisoners to nearly getting trampled by horses while shooting a game of Buzkashi. They are saved from getting trampled by an American photo-journalist, Jessica [Linda Arsenio]. Despite all their attempts, the Taliban remains elusive. But unknown to them, these hunters are being hunted down themselves...
One cold winter morning in Kabul, they get kidnapped at gunpoint by a Taliban fugitive who wants to escape to the Pakistani border. The kidnapper, Imran [Salman Shahid], is a Pakistani army soldier who was part of the Taliban. He knows that as journalists, Jai and Suhel’s movements in the country will not be questioned and posing as their local guide, he can reach the safety of his country.
From here on begins the two-day journey from Kabul to the volatile Afghan-Pakistan border. Jai and Suhel’s mission becomes a nightmare as they are taken hostage aboard the Kabul Express and made to drive across the most dangerous country in the world. Jessica sees their car driving away from Kabul and mistakenly thinks that they are onto a big story. She begins to chase them. Before she knows it Jessica gets stuck in a bizarre situation and inadvertently, also gets taken hostage by Imran.
By the end of the journey, Jai, Suhel and Jessica actually help Imran reach the border of Pakistan -- his country that he is very proud and patriotic about. But the turbulent political situation at that time has a surprise in store for all of them.
KABUL EXPRESS is director Kabir Khan’s first foray into feature films and you have to acknowledge the fact that the director knows what he’s talking. A storyteller is only successful if he’s able to narrate a story with utmost conviction and the listener/viewer listens to every word with rapt attention. Kabir succeeds in his mission of not just narrating an unadulterated story, but also making you travel to a country that’s hit headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The film has several poignant moments, but Kabir reserves them for the penultimate reels. The relationship between the kidnapper and the hostages, which changes from mistrust to trust, is carefully handled. As also the banter involving Indian and Pakistani cricketers. The highpoint of the film is the Pakistani’s reunion with his daughter and his subsequent killing by the Pakistani soldiers. Kabir deserves full marks for taking the film to an appropriate finale.
Kabir also gets ample help from the locations and the cinematographer, Anshuman Mahaley, takes full advantage of it. Not only are the locales of Afghanistan breath-taking, the lensman also captures them with dexterity. Without doubt, this ranks amongst the finest works [cinematography] of this year!
You walk out of KABUL EXPRESS with two actors in mind -- Arshad Warsi and Salman Shahid, the Pakistani. Arshad has an amazing sense of timing and it’s very difficult to compete with him. The actor is lovable yet again and in fact, contributes to the light moments in the thriller. Salman Shahid is excellent. He enacts his role with precision and his sequences, more towards the concluding reels, will win him ample fans in India.
John Abraham doesn’t really get a chance to exhibit histrionics, but gets two major scenes -- one, when he talks to the Pakistani about his daughter and the other, when the Pakistani is offering prayers. John handles them with supreme confidence. Hanif, the Afghani, is first-rate, while Linda, the American journalist, does an okay job.
On the whole, KABUL EXPRESS is aimed at the elite and the thinking audience. A well crafted thriller, the film has better chances at multiplexes mainly. However, the liberal usage of English and Afghani languages will restrict its appeal to urban centres in India. At the single screens, the film will find the going very, very tough since there’s nothing for the aam junta.
Also, its ride in the Overseas territory will be bumpy thanks to the depiction of the conflict between Afghanis and Pakistanis in the film. The Pakistanis form a major chunk of movie-going audience in U.K. and U.S.A. and they might not give KABUL EXPRESS their whole-hearted mandate due to the anti-Pak flavor in the narrative.
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