Starring: John Abraham & Arshad Warsi
Director: Kabir Khan
When a production house that carries a prestigious repertoire composing of titles like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Bunty aur Babli, and Veer-Zaara, decides to delve into a completely different genre, heads are sure to turn. With Kabul Express, Yash Raj Films known for churning out mainstream hit after hit, dares to attempt something different. The question is, do they score or have they made a fool of themselves? Not only do they score but they emerge trumps!
With debutant director Kabir Khan at the helm, and an interesting cast comprising of John Abraham, Arshad Warsi, Afghani actor Hanif Hum Ghum, Pakistani actor Salman Shahid, and American actress Linda Arsenio, Kabul Express turns out to be daring, thought-provoking, and extremely likeable. The only movie to be shot after the Taliban regime, Kabul Express surely deserves all the festival invitations (Toronto, London, Pusan). Although it doesn’t cater to all audiences, Kabul Express will surely find its audience.
Kabul Express is based upon the personal and real-life experiences of director Kabir Khan in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan. Spanning over 1.5 tension-filled and thrilling hours, it tells the tale of Indian journalist Suhel Khan (John Abraham) accompanied by his camera-man Jai Kapoor (Arshad Warsi) on a journey to capture a story that has never been told—a story that could very well cost them their lives. Looking desperately for their big break Suhel and Jai embark on a trip through a recovering Kabul, searching for an interview with the infamous Taliban. Led by their guide Khyber (Hanif Hum Ghum) in his jeep called Kabul Express, Suhel and Jai search for the story of their career. Little did they know that in the process they would be putting their lives on the line. Meanwhile, Talibs are fleeing rapidly to Pakistan to escape the rage of Afghans. Somewhere along the way in a twist of fate Suhel, Jai and Khyber end up with a Talib named Imran (Salman Shahid) in the back seat of their Jeep, who holds them hostage and forces them to drive towards the Pakistani border. It is this unusal and unexpected situation which forms the premise of the story. As they travel towards the border they encounter many obstacles as well as an American photographer, Jessica Beckham (Linda Arsenio) who ends up travelling with them as well. The story encompasses several moments within this turbulent journey and how each of the characters lives are suddenly turned upside down in a dangerous country where nothing is ever certain. While the first half includes a few light moments and builds up the tension, the second half is where the plot unfolds and concludes with an unimaginable and touching ending.
The real hero of this movie is director Kabir Khan without whom Kabul Express could easily have gone haywire and turned into a big joke. His experience and knowledge is thorough which is clearly reflected through the narrative. What should be incredibly applauded is the immense ease with which he intertwines humour into an otherwise tense and serious subject. It is these lines and moments which make the characters come to life and make Kabul Express what it is. Not once does humour or any part of the narrative feel forced, it is all woven together extremely smoothly. How the relationship between Imran and his hostages develops is fantastically portrayed. Any flaw in that part of the script, and the final reels of the movie would not have been as touching. By far the final scene of the movie was the best because it left the viewer glued to the screen. Visually the film is absolutely striking and provides us with insight into a mysterious and hidden land. Anshuman Mahaley deserves full brownie points for capturing such stunning locales of Kabul that have never looked so fantastic on screen. However it must be noted that the film could have benefited from a bit more rugged look.
Overall, the cast does full justice to Kabir’s script and make their characters seem extremely real rather than reel. By far the actor who stays with you the most once the credits start rolling is Pakistani actor Salman Shahid who delivers a top-notch performance. His character was probably the most challenging of the movie and he does full justice to it. He handles the comical and emotional scenes with unbelievable flourish. The sequence where he reunites with his daughter is remarkable. Next would have to be Arshad Warsi who once again proves that he is a highly underrated actor. Arshad undeniably gets the best lines and his comic timing is impeccable. In such a serious movie it would be easy for Arshad to go wrong with his lines, but he delivers them so aptly that you can’t help but love him. Although John Abraham doesn’t get great lines like Arshad, his performance is of a different kind. He’s forced to express with his body language and facial expressions which is equally as hard. John proves that he can carry off a role extremely well and doesn’t need to rely on good looks. However, it gets annoying when he stands there with his mouth half open in some scenes. Hanif Hum Ghum is equally as charming as the rest of the characters and delivers a great performance. Linda Arsenio is simply okay. In some sequences she excels and in others she irritates.
Kabul Express is not without its flaws though. One major point that might be a detractor for some of the audience is that in a few scenes the lines came off as anti-Pakistan. I highly doubt this was the intention of the writer; however it all depends on how you interpret it. At times the film has a documentary-feel to it and some viewers may not like this style. Also, Jessica’s character is not developed adequately.
It truly is difficult to combine entertainment and realism into a film and this is why Kabul Express works. Once you walk out of the theatre, the film grows on you even more. When a film makes you think, you know it’s good. In a time when there is turmoil at each corner of the world, Kabul Express sheds light onto an interesting issue and provides various perspectives of the spectrum. I applaud Aditya Chopra for producing such a film and travelling outside his comfort zone. Kabul Express has truly squashed the rumour that Yash Raj Films can only make romantic movies, as they dare to swim against the tide and easily make it to shore!