There’s a very fine line between a film that pretends to address relevant global issues and one that actually does. New York pretended. Kurbaan does.
Kurbaan (written by Karan Johar and Rensil D’Silva) makes you sit on the edge of your seat partly because it’s a gripping thriller and partly because it hits so close to home. It seems so real that it’s almost scary. On a cinematic level, Kurbaan is a brilliant directional debut by Rensil D’Silva, who has created the kind of thriller Indian cinema has tried so hard to make in the last few years with only few successes. For producer Karan Johar, whose candy-floss cinema has become synonymous with Dharma Productions, Kurbaan is a huge step in the right direction.
I will admit—walking into Kurbaan I was wary that it was going to turn out to be a combination of Yash Raj Films’ Fanaa and New York. Boy meets girl, they fall in love and then she discovers he’s a terrorist. What does she do next? But Kurbaan is so much more than that. The plot is complex, and more importantly, incredibly intriguing.
Avantika (Kareena Kapoor), is a psychology professor based in New York who comes to India to visit her dad when he becomes ill. She meets colleague Ehsaan (Saif Ali Khan) who woos her in true-blue Bollywood style—the charming smile, the I-will-not-give-up-until-you-date-me attitude and of course a great song. All said and done, they get married and move permanently to New York where they buy a new house and begin to settle down. Just as Avantika begins to blissfully enjoy her perfect world, she discovers that there is more to Ehsaan than she thinks—he is part of a terrorist group that includes almost all their neighbours (Kirron Kher, Om Puri, etc.). We go back to the same question—what does she do next? You can rest assured that the proceedings are much more interesting than one would expect.
What makes a great thriller is a combination of so many aspects of filmmaking, and the team of Kurbaan has given the film their best. The technicalities are all excellent—clever cinematography (Hemant Chaturvedi), incredible dialogue (Anurag Kashyap, Niranjan Iyenagar), realistic action (well, as realistic as it gets—Parvez Khan) compliment Johar and D’Silva’s story perfectly. On a side note, I’d like to mention the striking opening credits which are, artistically-speaking, exceptional.
Of course, there are loopholes in the plot—every thriller’s downfall. How is a most-wanted terrorist walking around New York City without a care in the world? Is it really necessary for Avantika to seduce Ehsaan to get the documents she needs? (P.S. This is the overhyped steamy Saifeena scene—it’s “aesthetically” shot, as they say.) Why doesn’t Riyaaz want to go to the police? Why don’t the police fingerprint the fork that Ehsaan uses to kill someone—it’s the most obvious piece of evidence.
But you look over these minor details because, for the most part, the film has a tight script and doesn’t really give you time to think about these itty-bitty details. It keeps moving quickly, making almost three hours whiz by.
Most noticeable is the fact that Kurbaan is easily one of the best performances by an ensemble cast this year. Everyone is perfect—even the special appearances (Dia Mirza, Nauheed Cyrusi). But this is Kareena Kapoor’s film all the way. She gets the meatiest scenes and the most chances to emote. With an off-screen persona as large as hers, it’s a huge accomplishment that she makes you believe that she is the character. This is easily one of the best performances of her career—she’s come such a long way since Refugee, it’s incredible! Saif Ali Khan is more restrained but should be praised equally for his intensity and naturalness. The biggest surprise of the film is Vivek Oberoi, who gets a lot of space in the film and proves why he has stuck around in the business—he’s fantastic. Out of the supporting cast, Kirron Kher and Om Puri stand out, but all are perfect for their parts.
Perhaps the best part of Kurbaan is that it never gets preachy. It doesn’t send you home with a message, which is such a relief. For some reason most films that address global issues like to portray a certain viewpoint and only that viewpoint, but Kurbaan makes sure to leave room for all perspectives. Each character has a distinct purpose and voice, representing the multitudes of viewpoints on global terrorism. Kurbaan is a film that offers room for dialogue and discussion, allowing the viewer to form their own interpretations and opinions.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to walk out of the theatre and tell yourself that Kurbaan is just a film because it just feels so damn real. The film stays with you for hours, which is always a hallmark of a great movie. Kurbaan is likely going to be THE film of 2009. It certainly is for me.