Hanif Hum Gum
Direction: Kabir Khan
If debutant director Kabir Khan wanted to give the innovative cinema buff a taste of exotica, he somehow succeeded. For Kabul Express is a travelogue — rarely made in India — set in the badlands of Taliban country. Afghanistan has grabbed the headlines for so long now that any attempts to set up a camera there should be able to grab eyeballs. Yet, ironically, Afghanistan has been so much in the news now, that any attempt to go there and not get the real story — the war, the destruction, the resurgence of the Taliban, the American excesses — can only fill the viewer with a sense of loss.
If the filmmaker wanted to make a United 93 or a World Trade Centre — films which have successfully captured 9/11 and its aftermath — then his film on post 9/11 Afghanistan ends up as a mere docu-feature that skims through the rugged terrain and the terrible tales that hide within. Understandably, it would have been difficult to translate the murky politics of oil, American imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism on celluloid, but mere conversational references to contemporary history can hardly compensate for the real thing.
The film unfolds essentially as a road movie and Kabul Express is the name of the van which transports two Indian journalists (John and Arshad) in search of a good story through war ravaged Afghanistan. But other than a handful of sad-looking Pakistan soldiers and solitary shots of a decrepit tank, there is little to suggest the terror within. Unless you take the friendly Talibani, reluctantly wielding the AK 47 to be of the same fraternity as the one-eyed Mullah Omar and the bearded Mr Bin Laden.
Our friendly neighbourhood Taliban kidnaps the two journalists and hitches a ride to the border in their van. And along the way, he ends up singing Hindi film songs with them and sharing their cigarettes, apart from indulging in healthy debates on Imran Khan versus Kapil Dev. And to keep the politics more correct, there is the proverbial enemy — once again, the Pakistan army — who ends up even more inimical than the Americans.
The film has its moments, mostly sculpted around Arshad Warsi's deadpan humour which doesn't desert him even in the face of death. Of course, the hero of the show is Mr Taliban with his nice guy-bad reputation image, (he even carries a photo of his daughter and takes a detour to reunite with her) which leaves little room for histrionics from John Abraham and the 'firangi' female journalist. Both of them look totally lost in the film.