Two recent films have brought back the powerful images of the twin towers collapsing. When it happened in Naseeruddin Shah's directorial venture Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota somehow it seemed a little contrived, you almost expected something like that to happen.
Not so in Kabir Khan's first feature film Kabul Express. It opens in true documentary style, pictures from the APTN archives, the rich baritone telling you about 9/11, how Afghanistan was forgotten, then remembered in its war-ravaged state.
Just when you are expecting the movie to go into full documentary mode, Suhel (John Abraham) and Jai (Arshad Warsi) who play the role of television journalists arrive on the scene to report on what's happened post 9/11. Their mission is to get at least one Taliban interview on tape. That happens when they and their Afghan driver Khyber (played by Afghan actor Hanif Hum Ghum) are kidnapped by a Taliban fighter on the run. He is Imran (played by Pakistani actor Salman Shahid). Along the way an American photographer Jessica (Linda Arsenio) ends up with them.
Each of them has his/her own agenda. Jessica wants to tell the world about the war, while at the same time hoping that publishers would line up for her book that will speak of the battles largely forgotten. Imran, who incidentally is from the Pakistani Army and was sent to fight with the Taliban simply wants to get back to his country. Khyber wants him out of his Kabul Express. While Suhel and Jai desperately want their story, which has to include an interview with a Taliban fighter.
Their wish is granted when they are kidnapped and thrown together by Imran's gun. With that starts a journey none of them will ever forget. A journey that is made even more memorable thanks to Warsi's presence and comic dialogue delivery - all done with a poker face.
John has his moments too, that come fairly early in the film. The time when he asks a young boy to join him while he is exercising only to discover that the sweetest smile often hides the deepest pain. The boy emerges with his crutches and smile intact.
The movie throws up several such scenes but none of them get overly mushy. Kabir Khan effectively makes the crossover from documentary to mainstream cinema by delivering some serious messages in a light-hearted way, by bringing together actors from different countries and using mainstream ones like John and Warsi together with Hanif Hum Gum and Salman Shahid.
Yes, cricket is a major point of debate, but when the Hindi songs come on, its same notes that connect, quite like the actors. There's Madhuri Dixit, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, who end up bridging the barriers when language fails.
Now, if you are thinking all of this would be happening in a dreary desert landscape, think again. Anshuman Mahaley's cinematography makes the setting almost picture-postcard perfect. It might even tempt you to pack your bags to re-discover Afghanistan.
At a little over two hours, the film is tightly knit and edited. Beyond the drama that unfolds on the rocky road to Pakistan, the movie throws up several tough questions. Key among them is that of war. We all know that war teaches us many things, but does it ever tell us who the real enemy is? The movie leaves you with some soul-searching for answers to that elusive question. For the sheer depth of its purpose and the directness with which it addresses it, I'll dish out a four out of a five for the splendidly done Kabul Express.
The movie has already premiered at several international film festivals including Pusan and Toronto. In fact, the next time you hear of it, its bound to be on the prestigious awards list. You wouldn't want to miss it.
Principal Cast: John Abraham, Arshad Warsi, Salman Shahid, Hanif Hum Ghum, Linda Arsenio
Director: Kabir Khan
Executive Producer: Rajan Kapoor, Swaratmika Mishra
Producer: Aditya Chopra
Screenplay: Kabir Khan
Cinematographer: Anshuman Mahaley
Editor: Amitabh Shukla
Sound: Rishi Oberoi
Music: Julius Packiam