04 January 2007

Kabul Express: no song and dance

The coming of the New Year was a somewhat poignant moment for me. It slipped quietly over two days without a song and dance, leaving behind a vision of how isolated yet interconnected we are as human beings. No, it wasn’t a personal tragedy, nor loneliness, that brought this enlightenment in the form of a paradox. On the contrary, it was entertainment.

Specifically speaking, two films opened my eyes. The first was, strangely, a Hindi film called ‘Kabul Express’. I say ‘strangely’ because I’m rather critical of Hindi/Bollywood films, as I am unable to accept their meaningless song-and-dance routines and open shameless plagiarism. But ‘Kabul Express’ was no ordinary Hindi film. The second was an international film called ‘Babel’ – a tribute (if that’s the right word) to this paradox of human isolation and interconnectedness I mentioned earlier.

‘Kabul Express’ is an intelligent film. Its intelligence lies in its treatment and presentation of human nature and world politics through a simple plot: Two television journalists (both men) from India visit post-9/11 war-torn Afghanistan in an attempt to do a story on the Taliban. Their Afghan guide takes them through the desolate Afghan countryside (beautifully captured on film) in his jeep in order to trace the Taliban, who are still purported to be operating in Afghanistan, and interview them. They meet an American journalist (a woman) there who is still looking for ‘one great story’ to advance her career.

For the Indian journalists and their Afghan guide, their meeting with the Taliban is unexpected. They are captured by a fleeing Taliban member who holds them hostage, engineering a journey to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border so he can escape/return to Pakistan. ‘Kabul Express’ is about two days that these five characters – two Indian journalists, an Afghan guide, a Taliban (terrorist) and an American journalist – spend together and the emotions that run within them, leading to the end of the film.

In ‘Kabul Express’, the war and the politics happen in the background; yet, they are very much a part of the film. The film is universal in its theme and it’s a remarkable achievement by documentary filmmaker Kabir Khan. It has no songs, nor dance sequences. It has no melodrama, nor action. In fact, the acting is quite subdued… with touches of humour and strong human emotion.

‘Kabul Express’ presents a facet of human nature that always amazes me. And that is, how we, humans, isolate ourselves through our ideologies and our ambitions, sometimes taking it to an extreme end, before realising that, underneath, we are all one. That, the ground beneath our feet is the same, no matter what our beliefs are, no matter which culture we belong to, no matter what language we speak.

‘Kabul Express’ is a very unlike Hindi/Bollywood film, but one of the best I’ve seen.

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