Kurbaan

I watched Kurbaan on Friday evening and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. It is not that it is an extraordinary movie — the more I think about it, the more flaws spring to mind. But somehow, I am unable to bring myself to dislike it. I think my irrational fondness has a lot to do with one key exchange between two characters in the movie, both terrorists, one of whom has just found out that a loved one is about to die as a result of the plot he is part of.

“But she is innocent,” he protests. (Woh be-kasoor hai!)

“And how are we guilty,” retorts the other. (Aur hum kaun se kasoor-vaar hain?)

Any story that tries to personalize terrorism is likely to draw upon two emotions — the anger that springs from personal loss, and the fear of losing a loved one. But not often has a movie managed to express this conflict in such succinct fashion. It is also emblematic of all that is right about Kurbaan. When it stays focused on how its characters feel, the film is honest, plausible and thought-provoking. Where it focuses on the plot, it rings false.

Consider, for instance, the scene where a law enforcement officer has just survived a blast that has killed many of his co-workers and bystanders. The plot demands that he keep moving. But his character needs some time to get over the shock. And sure enough, we see him slumped against the seat of his car, trying to gather himself. Only gradually does he get back in action. On the other hand, a character who needs to make a crucial decision about which wire to cut in order to defuse a bomb (the most enduring staple of movies with bombs in them) is not shown agonizing about it — he has seconds to go, and he makes a snap decision as he must.

As true as these scenes are to their characters, there are ones that undermine them as well. An important supporting character is a liberal-minded Muslim who decides to extract a measure of revenge from the terrorists who were responsible for his fiance’s death — his choices are among the most problematic in the movie. The intention is good — create a character who represents the moderate face of Islam and put him in a scenario where he has to deal with the same rage that the terrorists deal with. There is so much that one could do with a premise like that. Some scenes, like one at a sandwich place, show promise. But on the whole, the character development feels rushed, implausible and somehow inorganic to the plot. It doesn’t help that Vivek Oberoi’s performance isn’t up to the standards set by the rest of the cast.

Kareena Kapoor gets the sort of role that most actresses would salivate about, and does it justice. She has a moment right at the end that echoes, in a strange way, the ending of Last Tango in Paris — what she does with it is pretty much why a number of big name directors seem to want to work with her. Why she chooses to flaunt a size zero figure when she has talent to flaunt instead is something I will never understand.

Saif does exactly as well as one expects him to do these days. His character is written as one who plays his cards close to his chest, and there is hardly an actor working in Bollywood today who can play that kind of role better. But this turns out to be a troublesome strategy. There is a moment where he makes an unwise choice that makes us wonder — would such a dreaded terrorist make such a stupid move? It is possible that he simply made a mistake as a result of the pressure he was under. But by not letting us see how that pressure affects him, we are led to think of it as an implausible plot development.

The two key supporting performances come from Om Puri and Kirron Kher. Puri is in top form as usual, but it is Kher who surprises — she doesn’t get this sort of role often, but she makes us wish she did.

The production quality is quite good — these days, one doesn’t expect less from a big production house like Karan Johar’s. The music (Salim-Suleiman) is sparse and well-composed. Apart from the quality of the writing, there really isn’t much to complain about. But isn’t that enough?

Still, I can’t help but like the movie. The movie doesn’t ask any easy questions. Kurbaan provides an ending, but it doesn’t delude itself into believing that it offers an answer.

A day before the movie was released, a TV channel carried an interview with Saif Ali Khan where he said, “Terrorism has become a reasonable way to die. When we hear that an aunt is dying of cancer, we feel sad, but we get over it because we have seen it before. The same is happening to terrorism.”

Implicit in that statement was a certain sadness that it has come to this. He is right. Maybe it has to be personal for us to care, to react. Then again, isn’t that true of terrorists as well? Like the character says, hum kaun se kasoon-vaar hain?

ps: Having said all that, here’s a rather less complimentary review by Beth (who clearly loves Bollywood despite its many faults, God bless her) and an absolutely hilarious comic strip version that makes me nod in agreement simply because I’m laughing too hard to argue. Beware of spoilers, though.

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4 thoughts on “Kurbaan

  1. Is it odd that I agreed with almost all your points (esp that one about Kareena) and still disliked the movie? I’m waiting for six months down the line, when I might pop in the DVD or something and see then what I feel.

    • Somehow I’m not surprised. Reactions to Kurbaan seem to depend not on people’s assessment of individual components but of how important they are to their final assessment. Having a weak plot for a thriller is almost universally unforgivable — I am surprised by my own forgiveness.

      Who knows, six months down the line, we might both switch sides 🙂

  2. coexist14 says:

    I just watched this movie after coming across it searching for movies that explore the topics of 9/11, Islamist extremism, terrorism, etc., and found this did a fairly good job in showing both sides of the story. It would be hard for a general audience to understand though, in my opinion; I’ve spent a few years studying interfaith relations and relations b/w Muslims and the West, so I can watch the movie from that viewpoint, but I’d imagine it’d be difficult to do so w/o background info on the fullness of Islam and the complete histories of these countries. It touches upon a lot of the psychological aspects of terrorism and religion – doing God’s work (or what they think is God’s work), sacrifice, desire for immediate justice vs. His justice – and is a necessary tool, I think, to promoting dialogue b/w all parties, b/c it allows us to understand all perspectives and from what point everyone’s operating from. It does a good job of describing what the situation is out there, which a lot of people in the West have no clue about.

    Anyway… I had a few questions about the plot that were confusing:

    1) Why did Avantika ask for his real name at the end? How did she know that wasn’t his real name? Does she want to name the baby after him?
    2) If his real name is Khalid and if he really was a top suspect by the FBI (they showed a scene of him during an FBI meeting) how on earth was he able to get a job at a college?
    3) How exactly was Ehsan murdered? Did the FBI officers storm into the subway and shoot him? Why’d they shoot him if he was already injured? I was also surprised that they just bypassed Avantika and not hurting her, b/c I thought that they thought she’d have a bomb still on her.
    4) Whatever happened to Avantika’s father? and the guy who was with him?

    Also for clarification, he wanted to dismantle the bombs y b/c Avantika was unintentionally (by him) involved, or b/c he realized he was wrong and wanted to stop the mission? Did he realize he was wrong? At the end he said something along the lines, I never meant to fall in love with you but I did. I’m sorry.” Sorry for what – for being involved in terrorism, or falling in love with her which ultimately stopped him?

    These are a lot of questions haha sorry but I hope you can answer them, I couldn’t find a detailed enough plot that talked about these 🙂

    I also saw the other two comments. Have you watched it again? Any change in your thoughts/opinions/reactions?

  3. S says:

    I don’t think I ever read your write-up on Kurbaan. It is very specific and makes some lovely points shorn of sweeping generalizations (something I can’t stand in reel or real). I did see the movie once the DVD came out. Unfortunately, I also saw New York, which released around the same time, and they practically fused into one movie inside my head (like the Brundle Fly). Though, Kurbaan bits are what I can recall and New York may have blended with the background. Think that’s coz Kareena was way more specific and memorably detailed than Kat, plus she’s got talent to flaunt, as you put it. In particular, I enjoyed those scenes in the university where she’s writing Psych concepts on the board.

    Your take on “irrational fondness” resonated. And oh, these lines rang so true: “When it stays focused on how its characters feel, the film is honest, plausible and thought-provoking. Where it focuses on the plot, it rings false.” I didn’t realize Karan Johar produced it. I think its in his DNA to do the former.

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