Saturday, December 16, 2006

Slow, but safe on Kabul Express

Somewhere down the line, I got a feeling that the distributors went overboard hyping up the 'Behind The Scenes' of the film. And then began my apprehension, that, what if the film is not as good as the thrilling stories we heard during the promotional interviews?

Thankfully though, the movie lives up to my expectations.

The story is an experience, somewhat like a slice in the life of two India journalists - played by John and Arshad. Its a journey over a period of two days in war-ravaged Afghanistan post 9/11. They desperately need an exclusive story for their news-channel back in India. And as they board Kabul Express vehicle and their only way to reach Kabul, they are, well, hijacked by Taliban soldier. Hijacked, eh? (Deja vu of Ramgopal Varma's ROAD, since this film too, is about a journey at gunpoint. Aah, anyways...)

Perhaps the most important character in the film, is the country and landscape of Afghanistan itself. Its political and military setting sets the premise when the story takes place and that lends itself to most of the screenplay. The grounding for most of the humour and thrill in the series of events in the journey of Kabul Express is mainly due to the socio-political climate of this country.

What disappointed though, were the rest of the cast and their characterisations. The landscape takes over the proceedings so much, that we get wafer thin portraits of John and Arshad. The only deeply etched character is of Imran Khan, the Pakistani army soldier, who once served the Taliban. Performances by the lead cast are therefore average. Arshad Warsi as always is the saving grace. John-hunky-Abraham has a total of 3 expressions in his Kabul-Express-manual. Big grin, confused grin and no grin with the hair gingerly, under control of course. (I still maintain, Zinda was his best performance.)

The humour for most part of the film is intelligent. It's a colourful relief, considering the barren landscape and dry performances. The Imran-Khan Kapil Dev-All rounder charade was smartly placed and so were other digs and contemporary world politics - Pepsi-Coke! So was the donkey, in the middle of the road.

The film wins on technical aspects - cinematography (Amitabh Mahaley - picture postcard purrfect), editing (Amitabh Shukla - neat) and a haunting background score (Julius Packiam).

The film deservingly is being screened at The Pusan International Festival, Toronto International Festival, London Film Festival, etc.

The entire packaging is of a world-class standard. Indian film-making hereby has gone one level-upstairs. It's not the greatest of films that you'd ever see. But it's an experience of a journey captured in the most difficult of situations in a war-ravaged country. Now that's a first for an Indian film-maker.

Kabir Khan can take a bow.