There are enough films churned by Hollywood which examines the contemporary war on terror, with offerings going as far back as 2006's Syriana, to the more recent The Hurt Locker by Katherine Bigelow, adopting viewpoints of the players at the fringes on either side, or those placed in direct combat duties. Films on terrorism are nothing new to Bollywood, especially when they tackle issues on skirmishes and conflicts between India and Pakistan, but lately, this exploratory net has been cast a little bit wider, and the net being thrown at stories taking place on US soil, and this year alone we have Kabir Khan's New York, and Renzil D'Silva's Kurbaan.
The chief draw to the film though, personally I would feel, is the casting of real life couple Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Billed as a love story as well, their chemistry was instant, smooth, and just worked, playing a pair of lovebirds who spend the first forty minutes of the film romancing each other, starting off though on the wrong footing. Kapoor's Avantika and Khan's Ehsaan are teaching professors at a university, and like a typical Bollywood romance, comes with coolness and suaveness, with Kapoor at her element in being the aloof beauty, and Khan playing the persistant smooth operator, whom many will cheer for in his unorthodox tactics, and honey-coated words and phrases he uses to finally get Avantika's hand in marriage.
However, Kareena's Avantika then begins to fade to the background with the tone of the film shifting to its more serious topics on terrorism, with bombings and sleeper cell meetings taking over the narrative, once the couple relocated to New York and settles at an Indian community, with the Indian Muslim neighbours all acting a little strange. The couple's lifestyle got rudely interrupted when Avantika stumbles upon her neighbours' dark secret and suffice to say gets put under house arrest. On a separate parallel thread, reporter Riyaaze (Vivek Oberoi) gets on a personal crusade against a terror cell involved in the killing of his girlfriend Rehana (Diya Mirza), and inevitably these two storylines are set to converge, which gives rise to the comparison with New York for its portrayal of how new recruits get spotted, groomed and assimilated into the entire ideology of hitting out in American soil.
Which of course included ample scenes which show discrimination and prejudice against those who fit the classroom profile of a terrorist, and that infamous episode with Shah Rukh Khan at an American airport (which incidentally will be a subject in producer Karan Johar's new film My Name is Khan), is something of a teaser of such unhappiness can be channeled negatively into deep resentment. Renzil D'Silva also never failed to exploit opportunities set up in the story with heated classroom banter between US students, and the viewpoints of the Muslims in the film, stinging in delivery although one which will bring on plenty of cheers (like the audience I was with). However in choosing to present a more objective stand, these sledge-hammering, sweeping statements and mouthpieces down your throat also have their fair share of retorts in specially crafted scenes which preached against extremism, and the distortion of a peaceful religion. More so it tells on the hypocrisy of those who preach peace but are wielding guns themselves.
And since this is a fictional story, some dramatic elements have got to be in place, and you'll have to suspend disbelief in the second half of the film. There are a few things here that aren't exactly modus operandi of sleeper cells, given that they welcome a new recruit with open arms (albeit with a tinge of suspicion) and allowing him to walk right into their martyrdom plans without a proper background check. Also, because of the way the story is structured sequentially to allow for certain things to happen one after another, it makes their terror plot a bit too amateurish for this day and age, unfortunately. Not to mention too that the cops are looking out for an international terrorist who doesn't bother to disguise his looks, and allows him to cross borders oh so easily. But as I mentioned, if these were taken into consideration, there would be no film.
With religion still being regarded a sensitive issue and discussion topic here in Singapore, I think it's because of the way it more or less objectively portrays perpetrators and victims, their issues and reasons along with unambiguous rebuttals, that allowed this to be screened here, though an NC-16 rating for its violence and gore, with really ace looking makeup and animation to wow any audience. It dropped the usual song and dance routine, but only if the narrative was tightened could this measure up with its genre peers.