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The highs and lows of <i>Kabul Express</i>

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By Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Sarcasm is a wonderful cushion to rest your soul in a parched climate. So we have Linda Arsenio, playing the cynical American journalist in arid Afghanistan, saying to the two rookies from India, "There's so much variety here...kebabs for breakfast, kebabs for lunch, kebabs for dinner...bring on the kebabs."

The cynicism is applicable to the film which moves through the parched land in pursuit of a rugged adventure which leaves us thirsting for those moist moments that make a movie move.

Nothing and everything moves in Kabul Express. It's a dry sardonic look at a time when 9/11 had changed politics all over the world. John and Arshad are the two Indian rookie journalists grappling with desert-borne strife and cynicism. Their Pakistani and Afghani co-travelers (Salman Shahid , Hanif Humghum) create a kind of stifling stress in the car that carries the heroes through the dusty terrain.

In all honesty Kabul Express is a film more commendable for its ambition than for its execution. The deserts of Afghanistan captured with concerted conviction by Anshuman Mahaley, serve as a silent but over-powering backdrop. The interaction among the five cultural-specific travelers could have been far more penetrating.

We don't see the characters attempting anything but cursory conversation, made even more casual by the differing linguistic specifications of each character. After a while we end up admiring the director more for what he has attempted than achieved.

The performances barely touch the pinnacles of poignancy that line the war-torn country's efforts to limp back to normalcy. A hugely tragic moment such as the one where John invites a little boy to do push -ups with him... only to realize the kid is legless... get lost in the awesome bigness of the film's geo-political canvas.

Once in Afghanistan Kabir Khan is undecided about whether to use the desertscape as a spectator to the human interaction or as a vocal and prominent participant in the placement and progression of the plot.

Kabul Express is both a tribute to the spirit of survival and a covert political statement on how deceitful our proximate and distant neighbors have been in dealing with us. Pakistan emerges as the main villain of the show, thereby negating Yash Raj's Hindi-Paki bhai-bhai romance in Veer-Zara.

Finally it's all about the view from where we stand. While John tries hard to not allow his looks to mar his convictions, Warsi has some terrific moments to himself, like the one where he gets into the groove as Mohd Rafi and sings Main zindagi ka saath nibhata gaya.

Savour that moment. It's the only time a song plays in the film.

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