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Kurbaan Hua…aaaah!

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 Taran Adarsh, famous film critic, has gone completely bananas. He has gone on record saying that Karan Johar’s new venture Kurbaan (Renzil D’Silva) is the best release of 2009. You don’t believe? Wait until you get to the end.
And, gentle reader, hang on to the notion of Mr. Adarsh’s sad descent into insanity. This is one of those occasions when I’m glad I don’t write reviews—what my ravings and rantings (mostly the latter) are best termed are ‘observations’ or ‘ditties’ or ‘anecdotal reflections’ or some such. I’m glad because had I been a film reviewer, Kurbaan would have paralyzed me and ended my career.

      So here’s how it all went down…and down still. This was Thanksgiving break. I had two of my best girlfriends visiting me in Chicago. I’d just survived a grueling semester. I had not only finished grading, but had also posted grades online. I had received no disgruntled emails from undergraduates with a vaunted sense of their (sadly deficient) scholarship. In short I was as happy as I can ever be, short of receiving a Labrador puppy in a gift hamper. And lastly, this was going to be my first Bollywood film in the theatre in Illinois! For one reason or another, I had not made it to a Hindi film on the big screen yet. Very very exciting.
      After an artery-clogging lunch of Biriyani and kebabs on Devon Avenue, Chicago’s Mecca for all things south Asian, we decided to drive out to a suburb called Niles for a Hindi film. I’m not entirely sure who chose Kurbaan, but I do remember that no one objected. So off we went, bright eyed and trembling with anticipation. The theatre was fine, the ushers were friendly, the samosas were twice-cooked, the hausfraus were loud. All was as it should be in the suburbs. Lights dim and the film begins. Ehsaan (Saif) and Avantika (Kareena) are introduced to us as young, happening academics who teach at a university in Delhi. She teaches psychology, he teaches history, I think. Warning bells start clanging: why is the hero a Muslim in a Dharma Productions film, hardly a bastion of emancipatory filmic messages? (When my friend leans over and asks me this in an anxious whisper, I soothe her by saying it’s really too early to jump to conclusions. Give the film a chance, blah-de-blah-blah. Big mistake) Why is Kareena as professor wearing so much eye-liner that she can hardly keep her eyes open? What self-respecting academic pair makes out in the college staff room? Seriously, I’m not being petty and snippy—the plot is riddled with so many holes that it reminds you of the distressed jeans that were so ‘in’ last year. First, why spell the title with a K instead of a Q? Yes Karan, we know that you spell all your titles with a K. You also like drinking Koffee on a Kouch with your Kolleagues. However, if you cannot respect a language enough to transliterate it with some accuracy, pick another title. May I suggest somewhat unoriginally Sleeping with the Enemy?
      Early on in Kurbaan, after the wooing pair have canoodled on university premises, sworn undying love, sung songs in Delhi hotspots, etc., Avantika gets a call from NYU (giggle, snicker) for a tenure track teaching position. As soon as Ehsaan expansively declares that he is willing to sacrifice his job and follow her to the US in order to maintain their relationship, my mild misgivings about Kurbaan start escalating towards full-blown panic. Is it not possible for Bollywood to imagine a modern, progressive, secular, kind, generous, educated Muslim man? Ask yourself that question; I was beginning to hyperventilate. My pals even abandoned the samosas in dread.
      After the couple moves to a South Asian neighborhood in what looks like New Jersey and Ehsaan starts teaching a course called “The Impact of Islam on the Western World”, Kurbaan becomes my worst nightmare come true. Get this: the dean of NYU not only offers him a job without any formal interview, but is also delightedly astonished that such a class could ever be conceived of! My friends who’ve been teaching religion and modernity in some form, the time has come to make your ilk known to Karan Johar! He doesn’t know you exist.
      Ehsaan and Avantika’s neighbors in this little dreary alcove are all South Asian Muslim families who keep their women covered and their business to themselves. After only one evening of (strictly segregated) mingling, things start taking a rather ugly turn. Without belaboring the point—they’re all Islamic terrorists out to destroy the US. Surely you’re not surprised? Oh dear, were you the one who thought Bollywood was going to come up with something radically different? My sympathies, my naïve friend.
      Avantika—an intrepid Alice in terrorist land—stumbles on to a terror plot that, if successful, would put 9/11 to shame. Hereafter Kurbaan becomes one hell of a paranoid parable about ‘them’ amongst/around/within ‘us’. The profound dread, mistrust and palpable anxiety about ‘seemingly ordinary looking’ Muslims is so acute that the term ‘objectionable’ does not do justice to the text. The invasion is not only political, but deeply personal—Ehsaan and his comrades (including a corpulent Om Puri and steely Kirron Kher) have not only invaded ‘our’ work place, life, home and hearth, but also our bodies. We are invited to identify with the terrified, trapped woman, Avantika—while the motivations of the terrorists remain garbed in nebulous generalities like ‘jihad’, murky pasts and personal losses. The assault is deeply sexualized as soon as Avantika discovers that she is pregnant—a big component of the film’s ‘bloody’ love story is the passionate physical chemistry between Ehsaan and Avantika, endlessly harped on in the promos. So, now alongside sleeping with the enemy, she is also carrying the devil’s spawn.
      All is not lost however, because in comes Ayaaz (Viveik Oberoi), an ‘actual’ moderate Muslim, hell-bent on foiling the terrorist plot. ‘They’ have killed his girlfriend (Diya Mirza as the film’s only other modern Muslim figure) and he has sworn vengeance. Ayaaz, being the macho reporter, decides to take on this transnational terror group by himself. Only after much destruction, death, at least one large explosion and a chase across NYC, does a battered Ayaaz solicit help from the (equally hapless) FBI. Anyways, the Good Muslim survives, the Bad Muslims are all killed and Kareena Kapoor gets the final close-up.
      So, there you have it. However, since my appetite for pain is limitless, I decided to go a step further to see if I could find some reason behind the disaster that is Kurbaan. Karan Johar did a special (yawn) ‘Date with Kurbaan’, which is now on youtube: If Kareena Kapoor’s bad grammar and simpering, coy giddiness (“how can I answer that Saifu!”) does not astonish you, Saif Ali Khan’s take on the film surely will. He thinks Kurbaan is the “most socially relevant film” he has ever acted in and is particularly special, because for him, as a Muslim, it was important to participate in a venture that inscribes the  “voice of moderate Islam”. But Saifu, every Muslim who is a person of faith is a terrorist in the film you say? Ayaaz does not count because he is a non-believer. Hmmmm, well it’s his word against mine.
      Just so you know that I gave Kurbaan a careful watch: the performances are extremely competent. Hemant Chaturvedi’s cinematography is, as always, flawless. The songs are actually quite good, even if the vaguely Arabic background music as a ‘sinister’ score annoyed me somewhat. The dialogue was patchy at best; what’s up Anurag Kashyap? The plot—though bullet-ridden—moves fairly quickly after the first 20 minutes.
      If you have a strong stomach and have an afternoon to sacrifice, I’d watch it. Taran Adarsh’s family is now accepting sympathy notes.

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A good review. MD

A good review.

I agree...

Fabulous review MS. I haven't seen the film but from an evening of rueful conversation about it with my dear girlfriend who has seen it, extended in this review, I know I don't want to watch the film. Films like these make me sick to my stomach. And Karan's kallously krafted stereotyping has been driving me up the wall anyway. So, thanks for saving me the pain of watching.

very very good Review Loved

very very good Review

Loved it

-rohit k dasgupta-

LOL ! Can't agree more !

I never had faith in the size sero bimbo and her (now)minus brained boyfriend anyway. To make matters worse, you had a gay Karan Johar trying to make a hard hitting substance movie !
It's like a teenager making a film about marital discord, doing a cut-paste job from his DVD collection.
As for Taran Adarsh, I strongly feel that he is on the payroll of Ms. Bimbo. He always goes head over heels about her !
Well reviewd. I like your style.

thank you, meheli. hemant

thank you, meheli.
hemant chaturvedi

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