Sunday, November 22, 2009

New York (Review Repost Redux)

In the wake of the awfulness of Kurbaan, I'm reposting my review of New York, which I thought was a much, much better film. New York deals with similar territory but John Abraham brings a lot more humanity to his role than Saif Ali Khan does. And, most importantly, the audience sees John Abraham's plots as specific to HIS CHARACTER rather than a stain on all American Muslims.

New York is an interesting little film. Although it’s set against the background of the 9/11 New York Terrorist Attacks, New York is not about 9/11. It’s also not really about terrorism. The story begins in 1999 with Omar (Neil Nitin Mukesh), a new graduate student at New York State University, fresh off the (figurative) boat from Delhi. He meets and becomes best friends with two Americanized Indians: Sam (John Abraham) and Maya (Katrina Kaif). They exist in an idyllic college wonderland, the kind that only exists in films – all autumn leaves, touch football, and lazy afternoons reading in the park. Their peace is shattered on September 11, 2001 when the planes crash into the World Trade Center.

Omar leaves town. We then pick up the story of the three friends years later in the present. Omar is working as a cabbie in Philadelphia when he is taken into custody for questioning regarding some weapons hidden in the trunk of his car. Omar claims they are not his and Agent Roshan (Irrfan Khan) seems willing to listen - if Omar will agree to go undercover and infiltrate a terrorist sleeper cell - a terrorist sleeper cell run by his old friend Sam.

While the story makes the film sound like it could be either a spy thriller or a dull but politically correct art house film, the screenplay by Sandeep Srivastava, is actually a character study in post-traumatic stress disorder with the larger world events standing in for the inner trauma we all go through. I would compare it favorably with the recent Black & White in this way.

Omar, who remains our point-of-view character through the whole film, leaves New York not because of hate crimes committed against him by evil Americans in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11 but because he needs to escape from another emotional attack. Sam and Maya have just become a couple and Omar, who had been nursing an unrequited crush on Maya, is devastated. We see this in a very masterfully done scene where students have gathered in a common room to watch the news coverage of the terror attacks – all the students have stricken, tear stained faces, and are clinging to each other for comfort. Omar is also pained but we see his attention turned toward Maya and Sam taking comfort in each other.

When the narrative focus switches to Sam later in the film, his personal trauma is also explored in a similar fashion. Sam, we find out, had been detained for 9 months in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. When he is released, he finds himself unable to readjust back to everyday life. He’s filled with rage, anger, and a deep depression. And yet, this rage is not directed at a political or religious target – it’s personal. How he manages to channel this anger, I will leave to the viewer to discover but I will say that there is one very powerful scene where Sam is walking back from an unsuccessful job interview and passes an anti-war demonstration. You can almost see him thinking that it has nothing to do with him. This isn’t about war.

A narrative does not alone make for compelling viewing and fortunately New York has three other things working for it. Kabir Khan’s direction is fantastic. He has a great eye for framing and pacing and the film never lags for a second. Even the small quiet moments are full of purpose. The dialogues, by Sandeep Srivastava, are also very good. Irrfan Khan, as Agent Rashan, gets the best zingers but all the characters sound very fresh and witty and the audience laughed at all the right places.

Finally, the performances from all the cast were just amazing. I have to admit that I was dubious about the acting talents of all of the leads in a film like this and they proved me wrong. John Abraham, as Sam, in particular is very good. The scenes of his captivity in the detention center are very difficult to watch. John Abraham always a bit of an enigma on-screen but rather than being a liability, Kabir Khan uses that to his advantage to keep the audience guessing about Sam’s actions in the second half of the film.

Neil Nitin Mukesh, as Omar, has learned a lot about sincerity since Johnny Gaddaar and wears his emotions well. And darling Katrina Kaif is not given much to do but she does it well as the concerned woman. She is well-matched opposite both Neil and John and I would love to see her with either one in another film. Overall, New York is a nice little middle-class, middle-brow film. Well crafted and well acted, this film isn’t going to change the world but in it’s own quiet way it might open your heart a bit. (And I have a feeling it will benefit from the timing of the release post-strike.)


martoufmarty said...

I finally got around to watching this a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. We actually watched it as a family and even my dad who isn't much for foreign films (though he has his moments and really enjoyed Lagaan and The Warlords when I made us have family movie time) enjoyed it.

But there was one moment that just bugged me. It's the hardware clerk part of me.

I'm trying to be non-spoilery here. You know the scene with the bolts? Well, that's a grade 8 bolt (high grade) but the nuts shown after were grade 5 (lower grade) - YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO MIX THEM. IT'S BAD.

That error on the part of the film big-wigs kind of irked me.

It's a little thing that has nothing to do with the plot, but it bugged me. Kind of like how my dad has to point out every single mistake they make when they have a film or TV show about the Navy.

Nicki said...

I hated the ending, dragged too much. Otherwise, the rest of the movie was good

Filmi Girl said...

@martoufmarty Don't worry! I do the same thing in the areas of my expertise. :)

@Nicki Yeah, the ending was a little slow, but I still enjoyed it. :)

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
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