Director: Kabir Khan
Cast: John Abraham, Arshad Warsi, Salman Shahid, Hanif Hum Ghum, Linda Arsenio
Kabul Express, Afghanistan. Indian TV reporter John and cameraman Arshad are in search of their big scoop — interview with a Taliban in hiding. They set out in their hired jeep named ‘Kabul Express,’ with Afghan driver named, what else but — Khyber! And pretty pesty American photojournalist snooping around joins the bandwagon uninvited. They are taken hostage by fugitive Taliban soldier, who forces them at gunpoint to drive to the Pakistani border. That’s the storyline. What transpires in the course of 48 hours embellishes the film with sensitivity, emotion and drama.
Kabul Express is out-and-out staged fiction. A kind of hybrid thriller, road film meets spaghetti Western masala movie. Only locations are real, authentic. Set in war-ravaged, ruggedly breathtaking terrains. Mountains and valleys of dangerous living zones. And the history/topicality of the Taliban regime is used only as background to tell a tale about a motley bunch of people thrown together in strange, deadly circumstances. And how they journey through fear, hatred, mutual distrust, and find some innate commonality, empathy and faith that is the core of human spirit.
Director Kabir Khan constructs poignant images using inanimate objects from a landscape of ruin and devastation. A mansion gutted-blackened by air bombing. A shelled-burnt automobile lying on an empty stretch. Framed in foreground, like dead corpses scavenged upon, they create a bizarre, surreal visual ambience that conveys pathos, violence and destruction like brutal war footage.
But the film’s most powerful ammunition is its ironic dark humour and its biggest weapon is Arshad — who upstages the entire cast with his endearing presence and precise comic timing. When he asks for transportation and is shown an armed tanker, he mumbles “Taxi nahin mila kya'” And as he doggedly argues about cricket with his AK56-wielding captor, Shahid, the veteran Pakistani actor becomes his true match. Bowling over with his stylish clipped-accented diction and eccentric performance.
And, of course, the film’s ‘neighbourhood-brotherhood’ symbolism isn’t lost on us. Indian, Pakistani, Afghan. Linked by geographic borders, connected by cultural history-mythology of thousands of years. An ambivalent relationship but somehow indispensable like family. So despite their so-called enmity, the characters can’t help affinity. Like constantly bickering — and then tripping together on kabaabs and Hindi cinema!