Director: Kabir Khan
Main Cast: John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Katrina Kaif
Supporting Cast: Irrfan Khan
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
I had been looking for to this movie for almost a year, since I saw the trailer for it in December 2008. Apparently several post-production factors, including distribution problems due to the multiplex-producer standoff, as well as the IPL, caused this release to be delayed to June 2009. The theme of the movie was somewhat different from conventional Bollywood in that it didn’t center itself on a love triangle, although it certainly had the opportunity to do so. Let me look at in a little more detail.
This movie takes place completely in New York, USA, in the days/months/years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Sameer (John Abraham), Maya (Katrina Kaif) and Omar (Neil Nitin Mukesh) are three students of Indian origin studying at New York State University. Sam and Maya have both been born and brought up in the US whereas Omar is an international student from Delhi. The three form a close friendship that is eventually destroyed by love, wherein Sam and Maya like each other whilst Omar, who had feelings for Maya, is left languishing. He moves away from New York and starts working, evidently owning a taxi.
All this is revealed as “flashbacks” since the actual action of the movie happens much later in the future, where Omar is arrested for a potential terrorist attack after AK-47’s and several explosives were found in the boot of a cab owned by him. The FBI detain him and an aamchi desi agent, Roshan (Irrfan Khan), is put in charge of his case. It becomes evident that the FBI has actually framed Omar so that they could use his past friendship with Sam to get some answers, since Sam is a suspected member of a terrorist outfit.
Omar is then placed back in the life of Sam, who has now married Maya and has gone on to inexplicably produce a very gora baby with her, by the name of Danyal (pronounced “Daniel” throughout the movie). Maybe he was adopted or something, but he supposedly has Sam’s eyes, according to Omar. The two former friends unquestioningly accept Omar back into their fold and let him live with them, while Roshan uses Omar to glean information and try to get a confession out of Sam. Omar tests Sam by continually expressing his hatred for the American authorities and how he would do something if he had the chance… but Sam isn’t seem to be interested.
I won’t reveal much more of the plot since I believe that you should go watch this movie if you get the chance. The themes covered are pretty important and although the event is well in the past, it is still worth looking at some of the issues covered. Unfortunately, I can’t really reveal more without revealing the main plot of the story, so you will have to do with this abstractness, for now.
I wasn’t expecting much in the form of good acting in a movie starring Katrina Kaif and Neil Nitin Mukesh, who possess a total of 3-4 expressions between them. However, Mukesh finally delivered a pretty decent performance after Johnny Gadaar, in my opinion. His role was a difficult one as he had to play an amateur-spy-as-well-as-former-friend-trying-to-get-information-about-something-he-didn’t-believe-in and he did a believable job. Kaif didn’t match his standards, although to be honest she didn’t have much of a role to play, apart from the beginning. Her acting was about average, in that it wasn’t horrendous enough to detract from the actual movie, but it wasn’t so good as to lavish praises on her.
John Abraham, though, delivered a fine performance. He played the role of a good-natured, competitive Indian American really well, especially in the first half, but the real quality of his performance came in the second half. Watch the movie and you’ll know what I mean.
Irrfan Khan was excellent, as usual, and is one of the gems in Bollywood at the moment. His versatality as an actor is unquestionable and he’s been able to shine in roles as variable as in this movie where he is an FBI agent, to Billu where he is a poor hairdresser, to Dil Kabbadi where he is a middle-aged man going through a mid-life crisis.
The theme of Islam in the movie was not presented very well. For example, for the entire first half, the fact that Omar and Samir are Muslim was not mentioned even once, whereas in the second half it evidently became a huge deal. I think if the movie had stuck to the Indian/South Asian-ness of the people involved it would have left a better aftertaste. As it happens, they didn’t, and there were some dialogues towards the end of the movie about “freedom of Muslims” in the U.S. that didn’t seem like a particularly fair conclusion to me.
One more issue I had with this movie is that it may re-ignite bad memories. The 9/11 tragedy has been mostly done and dusted with, and bringing it up again and highlighting the role the American government played in the aftermath may not invoke the best emotions. However, the script was approved by the U.S. government, evidently, as a requirement for shooting on locations such as Guantanamo Bay.
Other than that, I think this movie was pretty solid and the only real downfalls came from the choppiness of the script.
The music (or lack thereof) in the movie was refreshing. There were a couple of opportunities where the producers could easily have inserted a sleazy, club-based dance song, but refrained to do so since it would add nothing to the story. The songs generally fit in with the song and even though listening to the soundtrack I don’t remember which song was presented when, all the songs remind me of the emotions of the characters in the movie.
Another positive is the picturization of the movie, which is based entirely in the United States. There are several shots, especially those involving the SWAT or FBI forces, that could easily have been in an English action film. The depiction of American college life is somewhat exaggerated but still believable, at least for the Indian palate.
The music for this movie is unobtrusive and not overly exciting, but still pretty decent. Hai Junoon and Mere Sang are the songs to listen to, from this movie, as their tunes are quite pleasant. The music from this movie is somewhat mellow, bordering on happy, but not energetic. It is probably something that would be nice to listen to in the rain, which is what the weather is like, right now.
However, this music is the silver-lining that surrounds the cloud of plagiarism. I wasn’t aware of Pritam’s notoriety in the music industry of plagiarizing but after doing a bit of research online, it appears that he has lifted riffs straight from (mostly) Asian songs throughout his career. In this movie, parts of the tune for Hai Junoon were copied from Naluri Lelaki by a band called “Samsons”. Here’s some video evidence:
The movie overall was definitely watchable and I would recommend anyone to check it out. The themes highlighted are somewhat political but definitely important to think about. It could have been better, but the fact that the director didn’t fall into many popular Bollywood traps convinced me to bump this up from just a 3 to a 3.5 out of 5.