Kurbaan vs. New York


After watching the Kareena-Saif movie, we totally feel “hamne apna Saturday ‘Kurbaan’ ko kurbaan kar diya”.

The movie was a bore. And way too much like New York with John Abraham and Katrina Kaif and Neil Nitin Mukesh – Islamic terrorism, a wronged desi guy out to blow up some Americans, a hapless ‘innocent wife’, a friend who’s an infiltrator into the terrorist group. But it’s fascinating how two people can treat one identical storyline in two such totally different ways. New York was nuanced, shocking, held its suspense so well, and made you intensely relate to the characters and feel their moral dilemmas. Kurbaan set out to dazzle you with the looks of the leading pair – and it succeeded with Kareena, not so much with the over-botoxed, rebonded-combovered-hair Saif – and was a movie that never made up its mind about whether it was a love story or a window into the souls of people who like killing other people. At the end of New York you walked out wondering about the pointlessness of terrorism and the senselessness of American state-sponsored violence; at the end of Kurbaan we walked out wondering about the pointlessness of the movie and the senselessness of a story that pretty much glorified terrorism.

The problem (one of the many problems, really) with Kurbaan is that it was like that episode of 24 where a liberal dude trusts the brown stranger against the fervent opposition of the all-American dude suspicious of all brown people with funny names, and then the brown stranger turns out to be a terrorist after all. It shamelessly encouraged the average viewer to go ahead and stereotype every bukha-clad Muslim woman and every young brown man with a backpack and rewarded such stereotypes.

The writing was abysmal. They couldn’t make up their minds whose perspective to pick – Kareena’s or Vivek’s or Diya’s, so they went with option (D), all of the above. Unlike New York, where everything unfolds from Neil’s p-o-v, and so even small revelations – like Katrina knowing all along that her handsome all-American husband is actually a terrorist – are discoveries that keep you engaged in the story. John’s haunted expression and sudden character twists are hugely gut-punching, even more so when you hear the back-story and see the real, very plausible torment he’s undergone. Here, you never really related to Saif or felt for him – not in the initial love story, not when he’s revealed to be a scheming, manipulative husband, not when you’re told why he became a terrorist, and not when he falls in love with his now-pregnant wife, and not when has his final melodramatic change of heart. His journey seems eminently alien and strange, and each twist is totally ‘yeah, right’. They’d’ve been better off making his a fully negative role, throwing in a couple of wife-whacking scenes and maybe having a last-second unexplained twist (was a change of heart? did he really spare her? or did he miss his target for once?).

The logic was non-existent. It’s completely frustrating how at least two of the characters – Vivek Oberoi’s and Kareena Kapoor’s – are supposed to be Amreekan educated and liberal-thinking, but in any moment of crisis, faced with any example of rule-breaking, small or large, they end up going the illogical, circituous route. When Kareena’s neighbor comes to her for help since she’s presumably being beaten up and about to be murdered, she doesn’t go to the cops or to a local NGO dealing with DV cases, or to a women’s shelter. No, she leisurely pays an in-person visit to a news reporter that the neighbor had met months ago in an internet chatroom (yes, huh?! indeed), and passively walks away when the reporter tells her she’ll call the neighbor in a few weeks after her vacation/travel. And then Kareena, professor and consummate Manhattan girl, generally wanders around in the neighbor’s basement in the dead of night. Seriously heroine, WTF?

Poor Vivek ends up having to go one better. When he gets a lead on the people who may have bombed a plane and killed ~200 people, he decides to take on the whole terrorist agency by himself, and fight for world peace singlehandedly in a severe Miss World relapse moment. When he’s in the middle of the terror plot, he still doesn’t want to tell the cops what he knows, but renders ultimatums to Kareena (who’s under house arrest) to source a f***ing subway map for him ‘definitely by tonight!!!’. He tells the FBI/cops about the plot at the last minute, because evidently just saying ‘subway system under threat’ is less helpful than giving exact station names, because the silly FBI can’t figure that out for themselves. Touching, such faith in the American legal system. And just proves my often-repeated assertion that modern journalists are, by definition, stupid. Thank you, KJo.

Of course, the five stations targeted by Saif and Om Puri & co. to ‘teach the goras a lesson’ are the ones with the highest possible concentrations of desi people – Jackson Heights, Lexington Ave – somehow suicide bombing takes on layer 2 meanings here, or maybe they thought desi/NRI audiences wouldn’t be horrified enough if it was 57th avenue or Harlem. After all that analysis, Rensil couldn’t even be bothered to keep his stations straight, because the back-ups bombers who were to target Times Square and Grand Central and 5th ave end up somehow, in a twist, at three of the originally planned locations, having been magically swapped for the dead guys with backpacks.

More logic issues – not only do the incompetent FBI not examine voicemails and evidence – (what happened to all the wiretapped evidence courtesy FISA and the Patriot Act, huh? huh? HUH??!!), they wait around for hours in churches for tip-offs from random people, in touching displays of patience and loyalty to anonymous informers. And then reinforce their good-guy status by exclaiming ‘Jesus Christ!!!’ at regular intervals, since of course this is all a war about Christianity vs. Islam, in which Hinduism mysteriously proves victorious.

Finally, possibly the brightest spark of talent in the movie belongs to Kiron Kher’s uninhibited Afghani character – she somehow assimilates Iranian/Syrian hijabi sartorialism (maybe the real Afghan hijab was way too scary) and diction from villains in 1970s Amitabh-starrers to come up with a pretty good composite character, not too unlovable or too far from her usual Punju mom roles, but also crazy enough so you’re a tad afraid of/for her. She was definitely better than Om Puri, whom one barely noticed – except when he sulked off in a huff when his authority was easily challenged by upstart Saif. And Saif! Saif, that nawabi bad-child looking for his lost youth just continues to embarrass himself and us by trying to be all-in-one: cool-dude and action-superhero and chocolate-boy-lover in every movie. He unfortunately seems to have upped his ambition and jock-style pecs (and steroidal intake) at the exact time that his talent – and jowls, and hair volume – are moving downwards. This when he’s not terrorizing and manipulating Kareena in reel life and in real (watch their interviews where usually confident Kareena turns to him constantly for affirmation, very unlike the Poo-ing brat of Shahid’s time).

Kareena is as luminously pretty as ever, and came good in the last scene with snot freely running down her face, but somehow she leaves you with utter despair for Indian women – if psychology professors are this dumb, there’s not much hope for the rest of us. She’s completely unresourceful, can’t be bothered to do basic checks on the men she falls for, ends up accepting invites to boring sex-segregated parties, is trapped into house arrest in her own house and promptly packs a head scarf when she realizes her husband is a terrorist. And of yes, when tasked to do a difficult (!) chore, she turns to the only tool at her disposal – no, not Google, not her brains or her education, but her body and sexuality. It’s possibly not just Saif here who’s missing the 80’s.

So, yeah, John Abraham still has my heart.

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  1. Zainab Jeewanjee
    December 1, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    hahahaha. I agree with your first line!

    http://zainyjee.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/sab-kurbaan/

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