Kabul Express – Get On Board

by vpundir | February 6th, 2007

As Kabul Express started on its journey, I braced for a half-hearted but pretentious film by a rookie director, with some comic relief provided by Arshad Warsi.

My fears started to come true as the protagonists, who are Indian journalists, hitchhike to Kabul on a tank. That’s right, ON a tank. As they go through what are supposed to be ravaged towns, I can’t help but wonder why all this seems so sterile and staged. I wonder why everything and everyone looks so clinically antiseptic, like in Lagaan.

And then it dawns on me: it’s the Indian directors’ obsession with hygiene on the screen. I mean, come on guys. All your broken buildings look like under-construction structures. In some cases, they even look, dare I say, beautiful. Where are the smoldering houses? Where are the char-covered buildings and gore and grime dotted streets? Where are the soot-layered vehicles?

Why do your “destroyed” buildings look so new and fresh with not a speck of dust or soot on them. Why are your “broken” vehicles so spotless otherwise? Considering that many of the buildings are supposed to have been bombed, and most of the vehicles burnt, such inconsistency in “art direction” certainly undermines your credibility right at the beginning. I mean, even when you have bothered to paint the lower half of Kabul Express (the SUV) with a layer of earth, the rest of it is so spanking clean, that it demands suspension of disbelief.

One can’t even take one’s mind off it, because the scenes are so drawn out for what the director must have hoped was dramatic effect.

The cinematography is bewildering. On one hand, it does capture some fascinating landscape; on the other hand, many scenes, especially those with animated characters, are badly shot.

And the moment they show buzkachi, my head started churning with a flood of memories from Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo III. Thankfully, the director somewhat redeems himself by not making any of the main characters play the gory polo-like game.

Surprisingly though, the film turns out pretty well. The director stays true to the story (his own) and the characters, perhaps a vestige of his documentary background. The concept itself is nothing new: disparate and often mutually antagonistic strangers are drawn together by the omnipotent force of circumstances, and they all learn and develop a strange bond (of a common misery?) in the process. However, Kabir has treated it with loving hands, and the backdrop of post-9/11 Afghanistan accords a certain intrigue to the plot.

The dialogs are efficient, realistic and sometimes witty in a very natural way. The acting is good, subtle, understated. Arshad Warsi probably gives his best performance so far. Salman Shahid is impressive. Hanif Hum Ghum and Linda Arsenio are efficient in their own ways.

I must admit that I was initially apprehensive about a film with John Abraham in the lead. Now, I have nothing against hunks in movies, as long as they have some semblance of an acting talent; John, of course, is not so fortunate as to have been bestowed with that gift. As it turns out, the director of Kabul Express is clever: he kept dialogs for and acting demands on John minimal. Shrewd move, Kabir.

The end was expected and quite predictable, but I wouldn’t have it any other way; the film would have the exact same end, were I to make it. Even so, I did not expect the Pak-border scene with Salman Shahid to be that drawn out. I’d have preferred a third the footage.

Final verdict: Above average. Definitely watchable.

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