Directed by: Kabir Khan
Starring: John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Katrina Kaif and Irfaan Khan
****WARNING: Contains plot spoilers – if you do not wish to know what happens, please read my review after watching the film****
Man, that strike was long!!! Even though it was only around three months, every Friday without a Bollywood film releasing felt as miserable as the one preceding it. At first, it was a welcome opportunity to catch up with the ever growing pile up of DVD’s at home, films that I simply had not had time to see properly. But soon it became clear that this list would have to be cleared another time – with withdrawal symptoms kicking in big time around April, even writing about the strike made the absence of films feel worse. (Am I obsessed with Bollywood? You bet I am!)
So like a welcome monsoon after a drought, the release of New York excited me to no end – here was an end to a strike and what better way than with a film that had caught my interest since I first saw the trailer when I went to see Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi? Unfortunately, even the best laid plans had a way of being thwarted -although I know Bollywood is popular, I had no idea the film would be house full on its first day (though in hindsight, I think I had the only Bollywood fan in the village syndrome!) A week later and finally, I made it to see the film! Though I may have missed the Dil Bole Hadippa trailer (its was only Rani Mukerji, I wasn’t too bothered – and I’m sure Shahid will have his moment with Kaminey), I also missed the first five minutes – don’t you hate it when the film starts too early?
New York is the story of three people – Samir (John Abraham), Omar (Neil Nitin Mukesh aka NNM) and Maya (Katrina Kaif). Omar arrives from India to start university in the US and is befriended by Maya and Samir. Very soon, Omar falls in love with Maya – only to find out she is in love with Samir. But their world is shaken when 9/11 occurs and changes the world around them forever. Samir leaves America to return to India. Seven years later, back in America, Omar is captured by the FBI and interviewed by federal agent Roshan (Irfaan) and is told Samir is now a terrorist – and the FBI want Omar’s help in stopping another major terror attack. Who is telling the truth? Can Omar really be sure of his friend’s innocence?
Whilst watching this film, at times I found myself very much involved with it, at other times a bit detached (though this could have been due to my companions cracking inappropriate but hilarious observations at what was going on and in one moment of cinema hall gold, an innocent comment from the woman behind had us in stitches) and felt like I was watching a Hollywood film. At the same time, although the positive elements of a Hollywood film were there (twists in the plot, stunning cinematography and crisp editing), there were also some negative aspects too – some poor charactersation, sub plots being unresolved or hurried along and some important scenes and dialogues arriving at the wrong time.
I also felt the whole college back story could have been more shorter and focused more on developing the characters than being part of the plot. The film changes gears a few too many times in this part of the film, going from a college soap to a love triangle to a social commentary. I also felt the plot would have been stronger if more had been made of the character’s reactions to 9/11 – we are told Samir is an all-American jock, who waves the US flag at any given chance. Yet when we see the characters learning of what is happening, Samir’s reaction is muted and the film shows other American characters as upset and angry – I felt Sam should have also have displayed a similar fiery reaction, which would have been totally in character.
Having said that, there are some very good parts to the film. Samir’s abduction and torture by the American authorities makes an impact, in what is a very traumatic but compelling sequence to watch. Similarly, Samir’s search for a bakery in Brooklyn also is done well, conceptually and technically, neatly mirroring the character’s search for his dignity which has been taken away from him. The cinematography is very good making New York (the city) seem personable and hostile at the same time. The Yashraj touches are very much in play in the film (the colour schemes, the gloss, the love triangle) but they never overtake the film which is an achievement in itself.
In terms of performances, John Abraham gives a good performance though I felt it was inconsistent -for instance, he seems almost to sleepwalk through the performance as a college boy but once given some scope to perform, John manages to make it work and give a good account of himself. It’s just a shame that the characterisation doesn’t let him fully explore the part. Katrina Kaif has improved leaps and bounds but I felt she was miscast – like John, she seemed to sleepwalk through the first part of the film and though there are a few scenes where she shows some spark, partly due to poor characterisation but also because of the depth of the role, I didn’t feel Kats made the part her own. I also felt her chemistry with John and Irfaan was not as strong as it was with Neil. But a pat on the back to her for a step in the right direction. Irfaan Khan was good but seemed to be reprising his role from Slumdog Millionaire. I also felt like I was watching his Hollywood showreel as he is clearly capable of a lot more and felt it was a shame that he wasn’t given that opportunity.
The surprise of the film is NNM, who manages to endear the audiences to him and plays the part of Omar with conviction. With an impressive performance in Johnny Gaddar, NNM builds on this in New York, sharing a good chemistry with all of his co-stars and portraying Omar’s plight sympathetically. Although he also has a few comedy lines (some unintentional) NNM really is part of the glue that holds the film together and again, despite the plot and character loopholes, manages to carry the film on his shoulders. Whether NNM can do a solo hero film (Aa Dekhe Zara nonwithstanding) remains to be seen but for now, New York stands him in good stead for the future.
Despite my reservations, I would still recommend New York – the film manages to mark itself as different from others and certainly shuts up those who feel Bollywood is all about feel good song and dances. This film takes a risk which may not pay off entirely but it certainly deserves applause for taking a chance and being an entertaining film with a relevant social commentary, not just for NRI audiences but for domestic audiences too. Finally, New York has been credited as bringing the audiences back after the strike and is the biggest grosser of the year so far (though this is expected to be toppled shortly by Kambakkht Ishq) as well as starting Yashraj’s year with a bang. If this is the standard of film we are going to get in the coming months, then Fridays simply cannot come fast enough…
Welcome back Bollywood – we missed you!