25 January 2009 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: Kabul Express
Kabul Express had been in a number of local festivals here, as well as in the Asian Festival of First Films, and I rue the missed opportunities to have watched this on the big screen. I guess a DVD with extras would have to do, and my interest was initially piqued because it was one of the first films to have been shot in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Given that we dare not venture into what are currently hot spots in the world, film then serves as the next best thing to be able to see the city of Kabul captured on screen by the filmmakers, for the world at large.
Shot entirely in and around Kabul, Afghanistan, Kabul Express features plenty of lush scenery captured by the beautiful cinematography, and it helps that both the writer-director Kabir Khan, and his director of photography Anshuman Mahaley had been in and around the country a couple of times themselves, the former being a documentary filmmaker who had gone a handful of times, and this film summarizes his experiences in the country which he had distilled into his first feature length narrative film. Through their eyes we see worlds that we don't normally see, and they have a very mature and poignant story to tell, steering clear of the very obvious story lines of condemning outright the Taliban here, though not without reasons.
Kabir Khan had weaved humanity across all the characters he put into this film, and consciously had everyone from different nationalities and cultures come together in a melting pot known as the Kabul Express, an offroad jeep which is used to ferry them around on a road trip pretty much to satisfy the wishes of the one holding onto the rifle. I thought it was a fine decision to have the actors actually from the countries involved in order to add a little authenticity and to bring across some genuine deep rooted nuances and attitudes to their roles, especially when dealing with the theme of hatred.
John Abraham and Arshad Warsi play journalists from India Suhei and Jai respectively, who decided to boost their careers with getting themselves into Afghanistan to interview themselves some Taliban, who are now hunted by the Northern Alliance and the US troops, and are fighting for their lives. With the help of a local Afghan guide Khyber (Hanif Hum Ghum) and a chance meeting cum rescue mission of American photographer Jessica Beckham (Linda Arsenio), they come into contact with an escaping Pakistani Imran Khan Afridi (Salman Shahid), who had fought with the Taliban, and now with the help of an AK47, forces the group to bring him back to the Pakistan border.
Kabir Khan had crafted some very nicely done set pieces, be it action or drama, and definitely comedy which hit the right note most of the time, at all the right places. The funny bits do defuse plenty of tension which come inbuilt with the kind of rough wild west lawlessness and terrain that the characters find themselves in, where everyone's for themselves, and self- serving militant groups still around to rule over their self-imposed jurisdictions. And for this Kabir himself got into some flak for portraying the Hazara ethnic group in bad light. There's nothing in black and white, and everything is in grey territory here, such as the symbiotic relationship that Pakistan allegedly shares with the Taliban that gets explored here.
But I suppose road movies provide for perfect opportunities where misconceptions are cleared and prejudices get addressed, where fears of the unknown get dissipated once familiarity creeps in. The team in the jeep through time spent together, whether they like it or not, had forged an uneasy alliance and dependence on one another, and if not for their backgrounds, they could be friends, given their common ground for movies, song and love of cricket. Except for the American of course, who's more often portrayed as obnoxious, and doesn't think before she shoots off her mouth. I felt that was one scene where she could have told a white lie in order to ease a tense situation, but in doing what was deemed to be the right thing, had failed to see the obvious repercussions staring right at her face.
Blessed by a truly hypnotic score, Kabul Express enthralls, not by being a novelty of achieving firsts in many areas, but through a story which was delivered right by the multi- national cast, and the relevance and importance that we live in a world without strangers, where barriers could be broken down with communication and understanding. Definitely highly recommended in my books!