THE BIG GRAPPLE
The point of conflict in this frustrating thriller isn’t terrorists vs. innocents so much as pretty stars vs. proficient actors.
JUN 28, 2009 – WHEN YOU’RE SUSPECTED OF ABETTING TERRORISM and when, under the cloak of interrogation, you’re stripped and bludgeoned and collared with a dog-leash and urinated on – or, on a good day, merely verbally abused – does this humiliation justify your turning to terrorism after you’re let go, if only to get back at the bastards? That’s the tricky (though not exactly timely) question hovering over Kabir Khan’s New York, which is set in the titular city in aftermath of 9/11, when scores of innocents were detained and destroyed under the Patriot Act. In his first feature, the modestly accomplished Kabul Express, Khan sought to put a human face on the Taliban, and here, he seeks to similarly humanise the Muslims who are routinely vilified as terrorist scum. Who are they? How do they get to be this way? And if you’re a Muslim-American, are you a Muslim first or an American?
Armed with this sobering agenda, would you go off and populate your film with John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Katrina Kaif? (There’s Irrfan too, as an FBI agent, effortlessly demonstrating how a good actor can, even while sleepwalking through a role, deliver a decent speech. His mini-oration about how nothing justifies terrorism is easily the closest New York comes to possessing a soul.) About the only thing you can say for this cast is that a love triangle that threatens to break on the horizon is mercifully averted. Otherwise, try watching Katrina’s declaration of love to John and his reciprocation of the sentiment (by a roadside), or try to keep a straight face through the tears that roll down Katrina’s alabaster cheeks as she watches the twin towers reduced to rubble – and you’ll see why stars are stars and actors are actors, and rarely do the twain meet.
Neil, meanwhile, is required to function as audience substitute (the way John Abraham and Arshad Warsi did in Kabul Express), and with his maddeningly innocent bursts of apoplexy, he comes off like the world’s sweetest, saintliest man-child flailing about in a sea of unspeakable vice. (Was he cast only because of the scene where he mouths his grandfather’s immortal Zindagi khwab hai, from Jagte Raho?) But to be fair, it’s hard to think of any actor who could have survived a script this superficial – littered with such soporific lines as, “Sirf college khatam ho raha hai, dosti to nahin” – where every character is rendered cute and cuddly and essentially without edge. Early on, Neil mentions that John, sometimes, appears arrogant, but this is something you have to take at face value, because not once is anyone seen as anything but overwhelmingly sincere and sensitive.
The remainder of the interesting rough edges is smoothened out by the relentlessly manipulative background score, which makes the film feel, at times, like an interminable rock video. As he proved with Kabul Express, Khan’s strengths (or perhaps interests) aren’t in the political so much as the personal, the human. (He stages a scene amidst protesters holding up “Buck Fush” placards and mouthing anti-war chants – but this is simply window-dressing.) He’s the kind of director who uses the big picture as merely the backdrop for an examination of the people in that picture – and how he thought he could get away with this cast is certainly an intriguing question. As with Kabul Express, he delights in location shooting, which is among the rare instances New York comes alive – though what can you really say about a film where the cobblestone pavements show more character than the characters?
Copyright ©2009 The New Sunday Express. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.