Any movie on post 911 Islamic terrorism that does not have “New York’s best brown bread” John Abraham and the delectably vacuous Katrina Kaif in a lead roles has gotten two things right straight off the bat.
Kurbaan, Karan Johar productions first venture into a world which somewhat resembles reality, gets a lot of other things correct also.
Most important of them is the atmosphere which is nowhere better established than when Avantika (Kareena Kapoor) and Ehsaan (Saif Ali Khan) move into their predominantly Asian neighborhood in New Jersey and are invited to a get-together, where the men and the women sit segregated, a certain joyless “House of Usher” type heaviness hangs in the air and silent terror can be seen in the eyes of a few of its attendees. Kurbaan builds on that, gradually ratcheting up the tension and keeping me engaged in the proceedings, something that almost all Hindi movies of late have been unable to do.
What I singularly found eerie and chilling in that part of the movie that takes place before the first big revelation [I am intentionally being slightly vague here] was the similarity in look, feel and development to that great classic “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”, where a character in suburban America finds all those around him “turning” as a plant-based pod captures their souls, converting them into human shells with their minds controlled by the organism, with those infected remaining human and normal on the outside but vacant inside with one single motivation—-to infect and capture more humans. Originally considered as a metaphor for ideological control of a human being (both Communism as well as McCarthyism) that deprived people of their ability to independently act and think according to their own conscience, the idea is equally applicable to modern religious fundamentalism which seeks to irrevocably convert individuals into hateful shells, calm, focused and normal on the outside but controlled by what a character in the movie calls “junoon” that condones the most dastardly of crimes in a mindless robotic fashion.
Kurbaan builds on the idea of “Invasion Of the Body Snatchers”, perhaps not intentionally, creating a dramatic conflict between the zombification induced by fundamentalism and that what makes us human.
The second thing that works for the movie is the uniformly high quality of acting, with Vivek Oberoi being the only weak link and Om Puri and Kiron Kher being the strongest. The pacing is good for the most part and Anurag Kashyap’s dialogs crisp and hard-hitting, which even though it goes over the Muslim fundamentalism in response to US imperialism done-to-death angle, still retains a certain edge which makes us believe that we are listening to actual Islamic fundamentalists speaking and not actors sprouting politically-correct carefully-crafted lines that are designed to offend none—-which was the case with “New York” and a few other similarly themed movies.
Kurbaan however is not without its weaknesses—principally some lazy story-telling, the presence of one-too-many plot holes (but not nearly as many as some of my friends who criticize it think it has) and one needless “sex-scene” between yet another extensively promoted star-couple, perhaps a bit of pandering in an otherwise “heavy” movie.
Not that it can save Kurbaan as it has already been declared a flop in its first week of release. This is a tragedy though because it is head and shoulders above money-spinning tripe such as “Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani” .
This fate of Kurbaan of course fills me with dread since it implies of course that the reign of terror unleashed by Kaif-Kapoor (Ranbir)-Kumar (Akshay) is likely to continue and escalate.