Monday, March 22, 2010

Arshad Warsi Week Day One: Kabul Express

This is the first review post in my series celebrating the career so far of Bollywood actor Arshad Warsi. He remains one of the most consistently underrated and underutilized actors in Bollywood and I would like to make up for at least some of that. So, to begin here is an overlooked film from the tail end of 2006 - Kabul Express.

You can find the preview post for Arshad Warsi Week listing my ten favorite Arshad Warsi song picturizations
here.




(Forgive the lack of screencaps in this review of
Kabul Express - for some reason, the DVD wouldn’t play on my computer.)

I first watched this right around the time it came out in 2006 specifically because Arshad Warsi was in it. Since then, I’ve developed an appreciation for both director Kabir Khan (who also did the fantastic
New York) and Arshad’s co-star John Abraham, which makes going back and watching this again a real treat. Based on Kabir Khan’s experiences shooting documentaries in Afghanistan, Kabul Express follows Indian journalists Jai (Arshad Warsi) and Suhel (John Abraham) as they try to get an interview with a member of the Taliban. Along the way, they pick up American journalist Jessica (Linda Arsenio), Afghan driver Kyber (Hanif Hum Ghum), and the mysterious Imran Khan (Salman Shahid, who also stars in Ishqiya).


The film is unusual in a number of ways – the running time is under 2 hours, the entire film was shot in the war-ravaged landscape of Afghanistan, there are no songs, and there is no romance. But it has a very, very important narrative component:
masala dil. Jai and Suhel start off their road trip extremely disdainful of Afghanistan and its inhabitants. They also look down on their chatty and slightly obtuse American colleague. Yet, by the end, in the best tradition of road trip movies, the motley crew has not only managed to learn to work together, every single member of the story has been humanized. The chatty American has her heart in the right place and Imran Khan has more depth than your typical filmi gun-wielding Talib.

Because Kabir Khan based this film on his experiences, a lot of small details are packed in and it’s worth watching more than once to catch them all.

There are little moments of comedy to lighten the mood and just like in real life, jokes seem funnier in tense situations and Jai is given to zinging quips when stressed. One of my favorite interactions had Jai asking Jessica if she played soccer (a nod to her character’s last name – Beckham) and her totally ignoring him in favor of pumping Suhel for information. The way Jai just waits for her to react felt like such a natural interaction.

Another interesting thread for me was the role of Bollywood as a social lubricant. The Afghan soldiers might not know much else about India but when they see Jai and Suhel, they greet the duo with an “Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Dharmendra, Jeetendra…” And another very poignant moment happens with a radio and a wavery recording of (I think) “Mujhko Tum Jo Mil Gaya.”

The
Making of Kabul Express Documentary (link is to the entire thing on youtube) reveals much, much more that makes the fact that this film was actually completed pretty darn amazing. From death threats against the cast and crew, to the fact that Linda Arsenio was the only woman in the entire cast and crew, to the insane security precautions and near misses with live ammunition and mine fields, Kabul Express is truly a remarkable film.

I can’t really speak to the politics of the film. Much like
New York, the underlying theme is something like “it’s a shame regular people get caught up in the unthinking machinations of world powers” and that is a sentiment I think we can all agree on. Pakistan, in particular, does not get off lightly but regular Pakistanis are portrayed with great sympathy. The Afghan Army and villagers start off fairly sympathetic but we see them do some terrible things. And no mention is made of where India is in all of this, which maybe is intentional.



But let’s talk Arshad Warsi because this is a week celebrating his acting career. His performance of Jai is a masterpiece of small gestures. There were so many moments that added so much to the tension and feeling of scenes – a licking of his lips when he and Suhel were confronted by armed men, a frustrated glance at Suhel when things weren’t going their way, casual flirty gestures towards Jessica, a furrow of the brow… maybe this comes from him being a dancer. Unlike John Abraham, who poses magnificently, Arshad is constantly moving.

And I have to give both John and Arshad major props for doing this film in the first place. Veteran Bolly-watchers know that John Abraham is also known for picking these small and quirky films alongside the
Dhoom’s and Garam Masala’s.

Speaking of
Garam Masala, where John was paired opposite Akshay Kumar, do you know why Arshad has done so well as a side-kick to some of Bollywood’s shall we say stiffer actors? It might be the dancer’s training but he is able to work with actors like John Abraham and Sanjay Dutt without overshadowing them. John basically disappeared opposite Akshay Kumar in Garam Masala – and I say this as a founding member of the Akshay No. 1 Ladies Fan Club... I love the guy but he is not forgiving of his male co-stars. Akki can whip up romantic chemistry with almost anyone but he will walk all over his less charismatic male co-stars.

Arshad isn’t like this.

I hope this has whet your appetite for the rest of Arshad Warsi Week! Just four more days until the release of
Hum Tum aur Ghost!

5 comments:

Anishok said...

I'm so glad I managed to catch this last week. It's a really good movie and I'm sad it didn't do well at the time of its release. A very interesting look at Pakistan and Afghanistan with India as a silent observer.

I think you've captured all the nuances in Arshad's performance, but I have to say even though he didn't overshadow John (who clearly was given the more hero role) he still managed to steal all of my attention.

Filmi Girl said...

@anishok I'm so glad you saw this!! It really is a shame that it didn't get more attention because above all else it is a very touching film.

(And - clearly - Arshad stole all my attention, too! I hope I get a few more members for the Arshad Warsi Appreciation Club this week...)

eliza bennet said...

Arshad was a great side kick in this film. It is too bad it was not one of John's better performances since the film is definitely worth a watch. It was a much pleasant suprise for me.

Arshad is good at not overshadowing his co stars but this is what a so called "character actor" should be able to do with ease, while not getting crushed under the charisma of the "hero". Arshad, I have always seen as the bridesmaid (as you so nicely put in one of the other posts) and he is a very very good one.

Akki is most definitely the type of hero that will crush you - and I totally agree on John dissapearing in Garam Masala. Akki ate up Ranvir and Mithun too (in CC2C) But Suniel and Paresh know how to handle him. And Arshad surely would too. I don't remember ever watching them together.

A star hero who doesn't crush his male co stars is SRK. He is a very generous actor in that regard.

Filmi Girl said...

@eliza I agree on all of your points! :)

I think character actors are always my favorites - even in Hollywood. They don't get enough recognition from fans. I will always prefer guys like Pran and Ashok Kumar and Ranvir Shorey and Arshad Warsi over the heroes that are here today and gone tomorrow.

Shell said...

As my package of Arshad movies firmly landed on my counter, I sqeeled with joy and tore open Kabul Express and watched it last night. I'm going to try and get my thoughts up soon, but suffice to say I thought it was very good, most of it anyway. Despite Arshad playing second fiddle to John in the billing, it was Jai along with Salman Shahid, that gave this movie all of it's dil.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl