Kurbaan: A Sacrifice of My Time

23 Nov

Renzil D’Silva’s directorial debut, a Karan Johar production, has an identity crisis. Every so often, Kurbaan stops to ask itself, “am I fish or am I fowl?” and leaves the audience to think, “nope, just foul.”

Kurbaan‘s fundamental problem is that it’s a decent thriller groaning under the burden of its Relevant Issue tag. It wants to be a movie about a woman who discovers her marriage is a terrible sham and has to work through her feelings for the stranger with her husband’s face even as she struggles to contain its painful consequences, but it’s often compelled to stop and Say Something Meaningful. With its legs running in two different directions, small wonder it falls on its face.

I generally try not to play Monday morning quarterback with movie scripts but the impulse is strong with this one, reminding me as it does of one of my favorite thrillers of all time – A History of Violence. I’ll apologize in advance to those of you who’re irritated, as I frequently am, by questions like, “But why isn’t X like Y? I like Y so much better!”

X isn’t like Y, because it just isn’t. I get that. Unfortunately, this is what I got out of the movie, so here goes:

The Thriller That Was. There is, of course, very little in common between Kurbaan and AHoV in terms of plot or characters. But with a little bit of finesse, Avantika’s (Kareena Kapoor) realization that there was something wildly wrong with her world could have been just as devastating a denouement as it was for Edie.

Although we meet Edie and Tom years into their marriage, there is a passion between these characters, a sense of rhythm to their lives, that is distinctly lacking between Avantika and Ehsaan (Saif Ali Khan). This is a shame because there are a few short moments (that easily fizzle out) between Kapoor and Khan that make you think they could possibly have explosive chemistry in the right hands. Certainly, they do a fantastic job of it with other people – why not each other?

There is a scene in A History of Violence where Edie just can’t take Tom’s lies anymore or what it’s doing to their marriage. What follows is not a screaming match but an incredibly violent, terribly passionate lovemaking scene on the stairs of their home that leaves the viewer half-aroused with its sheer heat as well as half-ashamed because you’re seeing more on the screen than two people having sex, you’re seeing two people laying their marriage bare.

In Kurbaan, when Avantika and Ehsaan come together in the scene leading up to the climax, after he has violated every trust a person could possibly invest in another, the result is a beautiful piece of well-lit choreography. Avantika’s feelings, her desire, her decision to accept this stranger into her body – there isn’t the slightest suggestion of anything deeper than a manipulative piece of showpiece filmmaking unless it’s “lie back and think of England“.

This is deeply odd because if there’s one thing a Bollywood movie, especially with a pedigree like this one, ought to be able to do, it’s make you connect to the feelings between the lead pair, even when the male lead is a thoroughly detestable human being (Shahrukh Khan in Darr and Aamir Khan in Fanaa are just two of many examples). Perhaps especially if the lead male character is a total write-off.

Like I mentioned before, I really want to take this movie as it stands, but the sheer disinterest it exhibits towards the love story that it chooses as its propeller is what makes me wonder if D’Silva wouldn’t have done better with the standard thriller format of a movie like AHoV. Choosing to go with the linear narrative, in which Avantika and Ehsaan meet cute and fall in love, brings up an inevitable question: what the devil was so amazing about Ehsaan that Avantika, a character that the film is careful to embody with the Vestal Virgin Complex of all proper Bollywood heroines, absolutely couldn’t do without him?

Yes, it’s nice to be wanted and wooed, perhaps even in the empty staffrooms of dusty colleges, but if cocksure Ehsaan with his annoying theories of love is the most ardent lover a gori chitti item like Avantika could find in Delhi of all testosterone-laden places… well, things must have changed is all I can say.

The movie might have been better served if we’d been introduced to the happy young couple as they move into their Stepford Muslim Neighborhood because that’s where things get mildly interesting. Avantika’s slow realization that things around her are sort of weird, followed by her abrupt descent into traumatic discovery, culminating in the event that introduces Riyaaz (Vivek Oberoi) as the new player of significance in what up till then had been her personal drama, actually hold your interest unlike the second half, post Ehsaan’s big reveal that he isn’t actually a refugee from the Lost Land of Bad Romance.

It’s the Terrorism, Stupid. So then the focus shifts to the plot point that allows the filmmakers to sell this as a “movie about terrorism”. As all the Hollywood filmmakers who’ve tried their hand at an Iraq-themed movie in the recent past can tell you, shooting a movie about contemporary issues is a crapshoot. You never know whether your movie is going to capture the zeitgeist or suffer under audience fatigue.

In either case, the way to build your “movie about terrorism” is not to lazily pick up arguments from anti-Bush screeds circa 2004 like “X thousands died on 9/11, but X+Y thousands died in Afghanistan”. Is it true? Sure, absolutely. But if you’re going to sell your movie as one centered on a current issue of grave importance to the general public, in India as much as anywhere else in the world, then the onus is upon you to deal with it in a way that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the watching public. Having chosen its pulpit, Kurbaan not only has nothing new to say, it doesn’t even make an interesting case for the few points it halfheartedly mumbles.

Not very smart when your movie is about to release a week prior to the first anniversary of one of the most horrific terrorist attacks to ever take place on Indian soil. In fact I’d have happily taken my money and spent it on Terror in Mumbai, a truly shattering HBO documentary narrated by Fareed Zakaria, had it been playing in theaters.

It’s not fortunate in its timing either given America is struggling to come to terms with the Ft. Hood shooting, and reading the associated commentary just serves to remind you that life in neighborhoods like the one Ehsaan tricks Avantika into must be one hell of a lot more complicated than Kurbaan makes it seem.

Altogether, D’Silva seems more confused than anything else about this Super Important Thing he’s attached to his film. Is this is a Bollywood movie about bad guys and good guys and the hot chick in the middle? Or is this New Age Hindi Cinema about the Meaning of Terrible Things?

In the end he makes the worst possible choice and made a Bollywood movie about bad guys and good guys and the hot chick in the middle that pauses to reflect upon the Meaning of Terrible Things.

As Avantika and Riyaaz go to work to foil Ehsaan’s plans and the focus shifts from their personal tragedy to the possible tragedy that awaits thousands of unknown, faceless Americans, Kurbaan finally crumbles under the conflicting demands upon its nature. Suddenly Avantika remembers she’s a wronged wife as well as a terrified citizen, Ehsaan remembers that he’s a husband as well as a jihadi robot and Riyaaz remembers that he’s not Rambo. Maybe you can find it in you to care by then, but I couldn’t.

That said, I’m sure I ought to give props to all involved for tackling a subject that doesn’t exactly scream “Bollywood property”. And sure, I appreciate the thought. But when I walk into that theater, I’m not paying for the nobility of your purpose.

Give me fish or give me fowl. Just hold the baloney.


Posted by on November 23, 2009 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video


30 responses to “Kurbaan: A Sacrifice of My Time

  1. pitu

    November 23, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    This was such a well-written review, Ams. I am not sure why I sound surprised, except, well, I read some truly bizarre reviews by the likes of Adarsh/Masand etc and a truly hilarious one by Khalid Mohd. (seriously, check it out at PFC. It’s like a lesson in How Not To Write a Movie 101. I think his prime objection was that the film’s villain is named Khalid 😀 Your review is far better than even Rangan’s.

    I was so pissed off by the film I couldn’t even write anything. The classrooms scenes and the glorification I thought was not just crappy, it was irresponsible. Hope the film flops and dubaos KJo.

  2. maxdavinci

    November 23, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    to their credit, the Dharma Productions version was better than Yashraj’s New York.

    lets jsut all sit back for some slapstick priyadarshan humor, yeh meaningful cinema bandh karo yaar!

  3. buddy

    November 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Some reviews are enjoyable for their sheer content. This is one of them!

  4. DewdropDream

    November 23, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    And I’m with all three of the above comments here! Seriously beautiful review Amrita 🙂 Must go see what sorta storm Khalid Mohamed’s cooked up now!

  5. sachita

    November 23, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I had expectations of the movie mainly coz it was from the script writer of rdb. i havent seen newyork and dont rem. the reaction to it but people seem to prefer that over this and that is a serious slap.

    But i need to choose btw this and apkgk to watch!

  6. Banno

    November 23, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    True, true. Hold the baloney!

  7. Sakshi

    November 24, 2009 at 12:13 am

    Very apt! Also its nice to see someone not try to package the movie as “if you ignore x,y, z in the movie” and compare to all the failures released last week then its a movie worth watching.

  8. the mad momma

    November 24, 2009 at 2:19 am

    “Every so often, Kurbaan stops to ask itself, “am I fish or am I fowl?” and leaves the audience to think, “nope, just foul.””

    LMAO. I hope you know you’ve ruined the review for me now because I cant read beyond these lines!

  9. Gradwolf

    November 24, 2009 at 2:59 am

    OMG I love A History of Violence. I’ve been trying to get my hands on the graphic novel though.

    And I agree with Pitu. This was even better than Rangan’s. And for some reason, crappy movies make for better writing(the review). True in almost everyone’s case. So never stop watching!

  10. Nita

    November 24, 2009 at 8:31 am

    I am so glad I skipped this movie. Almost saw it this last weekend but couldn’t get tickets! If there are some kinds of movies which I don’t like, they are pretentious movies, those which try and be “meaningful.”

  11. Carpe VM!

    November 24, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Trust you not to miss the sheerest of chances to wear Viggo love on your sleeve. 😛 (I haven’t seen AHoV yet but recently watched Eastern Promises — another of his Cronenberg collabs, as you know.) But seriously, I’m so glad you made that point about passionate, almost perverse, real-life-raw (read non-choreographed”) lovemaking as being central to the shifting of allegiances (on the audicence’s part) in stories like this. Completely with you that it’s crucial we care enough about the couple, about the love that was/is, so we can more easily ascribe villain status to the circumstances (as opposed to the Stranger in the Husband Mask. BTW, lovely line about that love-scene in AHoV… “leaves the viewer half-aroused with its sheer heat as well as half-ashamed because you’re seeing more on the screen than two people having sex, you’re seeing two people laying their marriage bare”).

    I think you’re bang on also in balking at the fact that a Bollywood movie of *this pedigree* does such a poor job on the tired-and-true romance track tagging team with the thriller track (maybe casting real-life couples was what did that part of the movie in?).

    And though the first and last lines rousingly sum it up, thanks for going the lengths anyway, treating us to the compare/contrast format we’ve come to love (and almost expect) from you for these “K” movies (cue: “Kambaqt Ishq”).

  12. Beth

    November 24, 2009 at 11:57 am

    The love story was a bait-and-switch, and the portrayal ambiguity (e.g. Avantika remembering she’s a terrified citizen, etc.) was too scattered to add up to much. And yes, somehow I think a portrayal of complicated ambiguity COULD add up to something. Now that you point it out, I will give Kurbaan some credit for letting people change their minds, and not just in the cheesy “the terrorist remembers that there are people/ideas here and now whom he loves and of whom he is demanding a horrible price” way.

    Agree with all that this is a wonderful writeup!

  13. dehati dood

    November 24, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Haha…a sacrifice of my time as well.

    In an effort to make romantic-thriller, it has failed to give enough impetus to either romance or the thriller part and the terrorism part as backdrop is as you rightly said a ‘baloney’. Seriously, I could not connect to a single character.

    And Thank you for reminding ‘AHoV’…amazing action scenes(do you remember the brutal nose breaking job by Viggo bhai) and equally amazing hawt, rough sex on the stairs(I think that can only be rivaled by nine and half weeks…yes adrian lyne rocks!! :P) now, off to watch ‘AHoV’ again…muhahaha

  14. Amey

    November 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    So, this is what you get when you mix “Rang De..” with “Kabhi Alvida…”. That’s one Bolly-mysery solved 😉

  15. ajnabi

    November 24, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Just your title cracked me up, because Filmi Girl used the exact same verbiage for her review of the movie. Apparently there is near-unanimity in blogland–unheard of! I’m so glad everyone warned me off, because given the actors I would have rushed to get the DVD.

    • Amey

      November 25, 2009 at 1:40 pm

      See, I told people in Jan 2008 that directors often use the titles to give you the clues to how the movie is.

    • pitu

      November 25, 2009 at 5:22 pm

      Greatbong liked it. Oh, the horror!

  16. Sue

    November 25, 2009 at 6:06 am

    See, I didn’t realise it was trying to do the whole relevant issue thing. I saw it as a thriller and quite enjoyed it as one. I guess the RI bits were the icing wherever they happened to occur.

  17. naren

    November 25, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Once again, you excel yourself! (I’ve voted fr you, btw, for the indiebloggies award)

    • Ramsu

      November 26, 2009 at 12:06 am

      Incidentally, so did I, despite having reasons to do otherwise 🙂

  18. Amrita

    November 25, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Pitu – aww, this is going to go to my head 😀 I really had a good vibe from the trailer, how was I to know that evil KJo knows the ancient art of trailer-juju? I’ll remember next time.
    That Khalid Mohammad thing is hilarious btw. Does he think all men named Rahul are ladykillers too?

    Max – omg, I’m actually looking forward to De Dhana Dan after all this. At least I’ll know what to expect.

    Buddy, 3D – thanks 😳

    Sachita – well APKGK is painfully overstated comedy and this is unintentional comedy. You choose!

    Banno – what did Dhanno think of it?

    Sakshi – no no, when I compare, I go way back in time!

    The MM – hee! the only good thing about this movie is that it gave me the opportunity to use that lame pj. I’ve been saving it up for years.

    Adithya – me too! LOVE it. I havent read the graphic novel because the time to have read it was before I saw Viggo knock it out of the park and got it stuck in my brain. It’d be like reading LOTR after watching the movie. It’s just no good 😀
    Also: 😳 This is about to give me writer’s block. 😛

    Nita – believe me, I wish I had.

    CVM – I wouldnt say this is as bad as KI, lolz. That’s a whole another level of hate. But did you click on the AHoV youtube link? There was so much thought in that scene, quite apart from two hot people having animal sex. It was so richly symbolic of their lives, their relationship and showed you these characters at their most basic and their feelings. Obvs, that;s a high benchmark but the scene in this one felt like they didnt even try. It was like Max said in his review – it s movie developed around a cool poster idea.
    Oh, and Eastern Promises is awesome.

    Beth – “bait and switch” just like its publicity. 😀 I don’t know, everything about it was so odd. Deconstructed to its parts, it ought to have worked or at least been no worse than some of the other lame stuff out there, but added up to a whole, it just blew.

    DDood – lord, I’d watch AHoV anytime, anywhere! Just watching stuff like this makes me thankful it exists. Do I ever remember that scene. Dude is a machine!

    Ajnabi – OMG!! :mrgreen: That’s hilarious!

    Amey – we should all have listened to you!

    Sue – have you met Ramsu? You and he are the only two people I’ve met so far who actually liked it. 😀 I much prefer this:
    Thats the movie Kurbaan ought to have been!

    Naren – well, snap! You got my vote! (Are we like violating the secret ballot or something? Hmm)

    • pitu

      November 25, 2009 at 4:16 pm

      Hey Ams, what’s this? I didn’t even know you were nommed for the Indibloggers!!! Plizz to be dhindhora peeting!

    • Amey

      November 25, 2009 at 5:24 pm

      we should all have listened to you! – I know. Remember it next time. But for that, you need to read my blog (and I need to write something. But that’s…)

      Also, reading LOTR after watching the movie. It’s just no good? Are you serious? Do you want people to curse you in Quenya?

    • Carpe VM

      November 25, 2009 at 5:27 pm

      “did you click on the AHoV youtube link?” — oh yes I did; it resonated enough to warrant that rave (as did your read on it — about entire characters and their feelings stripped, laid bare, right there in those few (non-gratuitous) fleeting moments).

      I haven’t seen Kurbaan yet but could totally sense what you (and by extension, max) meant about *that* scene in it being The Biggest Lost Opportunity in the History of Character Sketching.

  19. RG

    November 27, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    This movie is surely a flop office for both the lead actors. I am sure they both will want to forget this one soon.

  20. Amrita

    November 28, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Pitu – I don’t know what to say 😀

    Amey – well if you occasionally wrote something, maybe we’d come by 😛

    CVM – I hope you put AHoV in your Netflix q. If you liked Eastern Promises then you’ll love this one.

    RG – they don’t appear to be taking it in that spirit if the recent reports are to be believed.

    • Amey

      November 30, 2009 at 10:37 am

      I do update my book blog (semi) regularly.

    • CVM

      December 4, 2009 at 3:23 pm

      Hey. No Netflix (ha, thought I had company on that front in the form of compli, but since he, er, took off to keep his Eastern Promises, guess I’m pretty much holding that fort down for America! 😀 ). But I did just pick up AHoV from the library and should be catching it this weekend. (BTW, do you have the $1 Red Box kiosks in your part of the world? They have a pretty decent collection, and way cheaper than the rip-off that’s your average Blockbuster rental.)

      • Amrita

        December 5, 2009 at 1:52 pm

        Blockbuster? They still have those? :mrgreen:

  21. broom

    December 12, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Amrita, I’m watching it as I type and reading your review made me put a finger on what exactly was bothering me about this movie.

    Excellent writing, as always.

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