Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

June 26, 2009

Terrorism lite

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 4:21 pm

June 26, 2009

Cast: John Abraham, Katrina Kaif, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Irrfan Khan

Direction: Kabir Khan

Director Kabir Khan’s New York, based on extensive research conducted by the filmmaker himself, brazenly accuses the FBI of illegally detaining hundreds of Muslims suspected to have terrorist links post 9/11 and of putting them through extreme forms of torture, only to release months later when no evidence against them could be gathered that many of them were innocent.

Surprising then, that the same film’s basic premise involves the FBI itself waiting and watching and monitoring – but never arresting or even probing – a very serious terror suspect who they have ample dope on. It’s not until he’s planted bombs all across the FBI headquarters that they swing into action.

In another instance, a lady who works as a human rights activist, merrily goes about her life knowing full well her husband’s involved in terrorist activities, but doesn’t confront him, hoping he’ll have a change of heart eventually.

It’s holes like these that make New York a tiresome watch.

Omar, an Indian immigrant in the Big Apple (played by Neil Nitin Mukesh), is picked up by the FBI and threatened to be detained as a terror suspect unless he agrees to help them investigate an old college buddy of his, Sam (played by John Abraham).

Confident that Sam is innocent, Omar reluctantly goes along with the plan, and hence reconnects with Sam and his wife Maya (played by Katrina Kaif), who Omar nursed a crush on way back in college. Torn between his affection for Sam who appears perfectly clean, and the commitment he made to FBI officer Roshan (played by Irrfan Khan) who’s convinced Sam is hiding a dirty secret, Omar ends up stumbling into a shocking truth that leaves all their lives forever altered.

New York has its heart in the right place and its intentions are entirely honorable. The film wants to take up the issue of innocent people who sometimes turn to crime or terrorism as revenge against unlawful detention. It’s a relevant issue no doubt, but because the film is constructed from such a sloppy script, that point is lost under all the creative liberties and convenient short-cuts that the screenplay takes.

The film doesn’t quite work on an emotional level either because the acting’s rather weak. It’s hard to feel sympathy for characters who fail to convey emotions convincingly. Look at the scene in which our three protagonists watch the Twin Towers being attacked on television – I think I can safely say, eight years ago sitting in Mumbai, I was more disturbed than these fellows appear to be right there in the heart of New York.

It doesn’t help matters that the dialogue’s clunky and full of lines that make you cringe. Irrfan Khan – easily the film’s biggest strength – is often saddled with patronising sermons, including one particularly ill-timed one in the film’s closing scene. He is the conscience of this movie, he stands for the modern Muslim, and what he says is almost always important – now if only the film didn’t feel like such a cop-out.

New York wants to be a meaningful film about a relevant issue, but the makers don’t seem to have the courage in their convictions. As a result, it’s evenly ‘commercialised’ with all the trappings of a typical Bollywood potboiler. In the end, the only bits that engage are the early campus scenes where all three actors are only required to play versions of themselves.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for director Kabir Khan’s New York. But watch the excellent Pakistani film Khuda Kay Liye to see how a terrific script and convincing performances can go a long way in telling a similar story. This film, unfortunately, lacks both.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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