Question: When is New York not New York?
Answer: When it’s Philadelphia, or Jersey City, or Toronto, or anywhere else.
It rankles when a film is supposed to be set in NYC, but isn’t actually shot here. Last night, as I watched Kabir Khan’s New York and its car chases and street scenes, at first I thought “Hang on, was this filmed in some obscure area of downtown that I don’t know?” But no, I soon realized that in everything from the buildings to the street signs, it’s not Manhattan.
Look, I know New York City is an expensive place to go on location, but for people who know the city – as I’m sure many of the globe-trotting crowd at the multiplexes do – when you sit down in a cinema and have locales being foisted off on you that you’re just not buying, it detracts from the experience. And no, the gratuitous shots of Times Square and Central Park don’t make up for the lack of everything else.
Ok, now that I’ve gotten that bit of urban chauvinism off my chest”¦..
Yash Raj’s big summer release, our first drink of cold water after the long drought at the movie halls, is an interesting choice for this time of year, given the rather dark subject matter.
Neil Nitin Mukesh’s character, Omar, is woken up from a good night’s sleep by a SWAT team and dragged off for questioning at an FBI office after weapons are found in a taxi he owns. The handsome man interrogating him in Hindi is none other than “Irrfan” (or Irrfan Khan as he used to be referred to in the screen credits).
In a reprise of the ol’ Slumdog path he’s just recently walked down, Irrfan’s questioning allows Omar to flash back to the sunny days of September 1999 when he arrived at New York State University (shot at Bryn Mawr College) and soon fell into the easy company of Maya (Katrina Kaif), who we can tell is a bohemian by the many magenta streaks in her hair,
and Sam(ir) (John Abraham) who is the bona fide big man on campus: athletic, handsome and apparently smart too, since he is a winner at chess, like everything else.
The delish half-Parsi, half-Syrian Christian Bombay boy looks almost as gorgeous here (especially in shackles!) as he did in last summer’s sex farce Dostana, but c’mon folks, are we really supposed to buy him as a grad student??? Ok, he’s not as old as Aamir was when attempting the same laaaaaaaaaaaaaaambi stretch of the imagination in Rang De Basanti, but still, if they could have at least introduced him as “Sam, who’s in the 10th year on his PhD”, it would have been kosher, but a fine young thing somewhere between, say, 22 and 26, is just a bit much. And, please, I’m not being ageist. It drives me barmy when someone will remark “Tsk, tsk, Juhi/Madhuri/fill-in-the-blank looks SO old!” when she looks perfectly fine (or better) for her age, but here we’re being asked to buy a terribly false bill of goods. Ok, rant over.
Omar’s two college buddies are both desi kids who’ve spent most their lives in the US and are more at ease with Vestern ways than f-o-b Omar, and don’t get mad at me for using that acronym, as Maya uses it too, to dear Omar’s face even. If you guessed there was a love triangle coming, you obviously know your Hindi movies, because right before The Fateful Day, it makes its presence known. But just as Omar’s eyes are welling up with tears, a blood curdling scream across the campus shatters the moment and the trio all end up in front of a TV screen, watching the Twin Towers get hit by the planes, then crumble.
Back to the present, Irrfan’s character offers Omar a chance to save himself, by infiltrating Sam and Maya’s lives in their typically American center-hall colonial home (he’s seen neither since that day, when he bolted for Philly), because the FBI are convinced Sam is the head of a Muslim sleeper cell. Omar recoils at the offer, but then reasons it will allow him to clear himself and also prove the Feds wrong for suspecting Sam.
Up until now, the film was trotting along at a good clip, the twists were interesting, the leads pretty to look at, but after the Intermission (and that’s how it was written on screen, not Interval) the plot felt rather like I imagine trying to capture slimy eels while under the influence of heavy duty painkillers; it went hither and yon while taking what seemed a very long time to do so. (And shame on you to the folks at MovieTickets.com for listing the film’s running time as 1:48, for it was at least an hour more than that.)
There are twists and reveals, and torture and car chases and rappelling down the side of a PNC Bank building, but it took too long to get to the surprising (for me anyway) climax and I got terribly sleepy and fidgety for the last 30 minutes.
See it or skip it?
Tough call. Kabir Khan ran a much tighter and more minimalist ship in his first venture, Kabul Express, but then again, consider where he was shooting.
While his New York contains all the happy-pretty-young-people-bathed-in-sunlight bits you’d expect from a Yash Raj film, it also tries to broach some very serious and deep subjects (torture, the blowback from torturing people, racial profiling, being Muslim in America after 9/11). The viewer will feel for innocents subjected to waterboarding (actually depicted here, briefly), but the final moments feel somewhat disjointed and overly optimistic in view of the grave material presented less than an hour before.
That said, we’ve all been deprived any movies for so long, and this one does touch on such a big subject, I’m sure your curiosity will get the better of you anyway, so go see it.
Irrfan – he of the unimonniker now – is the best there is in the film, but also, he’s so good anyway, he could turn in this performance while at 50% power. The surprises for me were John Abraham and Neil Nitin Mukesh, both who managed to make me believe them in the most dramatic scenes, though less so in the more mundane moments of their celluloid lives. Ms. Kaif was her usual attractive self, but a bit too light to be credible as a “human rights worker.”
One last thing”¦. If you see this at the ImaginAsian, or wherever you might see it in the US, count how many crappy ads you have to sit through before you even get to any movie trailers (in our case last night, the very colorful Dil Bole Hadippa, and Kambaqt Ishq). I estimate we had to endure some 10 or 12, about one third of which were for cell phones, and they weren’t even the “extended play” movie quality versions of some ads that you used to get. Boo hiss to Phoenix Adlabs. After paying $13 I wouldn’t mind if it was 10 trailers, but not that trash we were subjected to last night.