Sacrifice, not a simple word
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- Published 21.11.09
The Quran mentions the term jihad 41 times. Love, peace, mercy and compassion find a mention 355 times. Why then is Islamic fundamentalism considered the biggest threat to civilisation today? Why are young men (and women), blinded by rage and revenge, ever ready to give up their lives and conscience to a bloody cause that seeks to only kill and destroy? Why is almost every country
of the world tarred by the same Islamophobic brush?
Kurbaan seeks to answer these questions as it explores the meaning of jihad and the psyche of the jihadi. Looking at the other side of Islamic fundamentalism, Kurbaan attempts to put the post 9/11 mayhem and rancour into perspective — without taking any sides or getting too preachy.
But beyond all the fanaticism and the bloodbath, the suicide mission and the mindless killing, Kurbaan is a beautiful love story. The love story between Ehsaan (Saif Ali Khan) and Avantika (Kareena Kapoor). The two meet in the pristine winter of Delhi as university colleagues — she teaches psychology, he tutors on the misconceptions surrounding Islam in the modern world. Suave, sophisticated and a consummate charmer, he sweeps her off her feet, all the while nonchalantly declaring, “I am not trying to charm you. I am just trying to have coffee with you.”
The wit and repartee, the thrust and parry between the two keeps the first hour alive, as they discover each other and their love. When she gets a New York University opportunity of a lifetime, he supports her selflessly, following her there unconditionally. As Salim-Sulaiman’s soulful Shukran Allah transports them from India to America, you almost will them to live happily ever after.
But as the tagline warns, this love story has blood on it. A blissfully happy and pregnant Avantika’s world is razed to the ground when she discovers that her soft-spoken and caring husband is a jihadi, determined to bomb the western world for the atrocities he believes it has inflicted on his religion and his people. From ‘why?’ to ‘why us?’, a hapless Avantika oscillates between love and loathing for the man who has fathered her child, even as she becomes a pawn in his hands, a mere means to fulfil his greater cause.
Making his debut as director, Rensil D’Silva takes time to establish the characters and develop the situations, but thereafter there is no stopping the man who had scripted Rang De Basanti. Relentless, dark and brooding (two thumbs up for Hemant Chaturvedi’s cinematography), Kurbaan keeps the screen pulsating with tension and drama almost throughout its 160 minutes. Every deception, every lie, every murky design keeps you glued to the edge of your seat, with a feeling of constant intrigue and suspense. Much like a time bomb ticking away only to explode in a 35-minute climax shot and executed at breakneck speed, fraught with pressure-cooker tension.
Rarely does one come across a Bollywood film that looks world politics and terror squarely in the eye. But producer Karan Johar — who also lends his expertise to the script — drops his usual candyfloss fare to make Kurbaan as hard-hitting as it gets. From West Bank to Iraq, from the conspiracy theory of linking the rise of Islamic terrorism to America’s oil-grabbing strategy to a debate on Weapons of Mass Destruction and the claim that the Taliban was funded by the CIA to counter the Russians, Kurbaan says it all — and says it well, for the most part.
Whenever the film gets a little tone heavy, the sparkling dialogues (Anurag Kashyap and Niranjan Iyengar) come to the rescue. Kurbaan is closer to New York than to Fanaa, two films with a similar premise. But it does the romance better than New York and the terror better than Fanaa.
A good film is always characterised by good performances and every actor in Kurbaan is a round peg in a round hole. As the face of moderate and progressive Islam, Vivek Oberoi lends a quiet confidence to Riyaz, coming up with a performance that is suitably understated but hard-hitting. As jihadis with poignant back stories, Om Puri and Kirron Kher give us one more instance of their mastery over the craft and Dia Mirza sparkles in a brief but significant role.
But it is THE couple — Saif and Kareena — who breathe life into Kurbaan. She morphs effortlessly from a young girl in love to a shattered wife, still in love with her husband. Watch out for that scene when she tends to an injured Saif — she recoils one moment, flinches at his pain the next. Equally remarkable is Saif’s easy transition from a charming lover to a heartless man on a deadly mission. Misty-eyed he watches his child’s foetal images and then sticks a dagger into an accomplice’s neck without batting an eyelid.
From half-a-dozen liplocks to a lovemaking scene which frankly is a lot of bareback action and little else, the Saifeena chemistry scores, but a little more emotional thrust in the post-revelation scenes would have lent more reel spice to this real-life romance.
Kurbaan is not without its shortcomings — the terror plan is laughable in most parts, the FBI is inexplicably reduced to a pack of jokers and it is all 20 minutes too long. Actor Imran Khan may have jumped the gun branding it the “best Hindi film I’ve seen this year” on Twitter, but it certainly is a must-watch — for the love more than the hate.
P.S.: Seconds before Kurbaan, the promo of Shahid Kapur’s Chance Pe Dance lights up the screen. A Shahid prelude to Saif-Kareena’s passion play?!