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Inside Afghanistan, Well, Almost!

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Kabul ExpressHaving seen the Arshad Warsi-John Abraham starrer ‘Kabul Express’ twice in the first week, I am reflecting on some of the things that make this Kabir Khan film such a good one. The promo shows John and Arshad singing a song called ‘Kabul Fiza’ but this is completely misleading – there are no songs in the film. The only woman in the film, an American journalist played by Linda Arsenio, does not break out into an item number. And the man playing the villain, Pakistani actor Salman Shahid, playing a member of the dreaded Taliban, does such a good job, that he walks away with a major chunk of the audience’s sympathy!

How does all this happen? The truth of course, is that ‘Kabul Express’ is a story that Indians ought to have heard a long time ago. With historical links to Afghanistan for centuries, Indians also have cultural links to this Central Asian country, whose ‘Kabuliwalla’ character has been immortalized in literature by none other than Rabindranath Tagore. And yet, in the globalized world of today, where American versions of the truth dominate the world media, it is difficult to penetrate behind the facts of the ‘shock and awe’ campaign unleashed in Afghanistan after 9/11. The collective memory of the world is so fickle that the current history being made in Iraq, or in Sudan, or Lebanon, is quickly forgotten while the latest insincere statements by politicians world over, are being reported.

In such a scenario, a film like ‘Kabul Express’ takes us for the first time into the contemporary landscape of a land where, throughout the whole film, we do not see a single bit of greenery – no tree is ever visible in any horizon or frame. Women are only shown under uniformly blue burqas, except for the single, heart-wrenching glimpse of the face of the Talib’s daughter. Any form of tenderness is rejected even by children – boys as young as five or six incredulously bat away the concerned hands of the American woman as she tries to comfort them after injury from a football. What kind of place is this? And how much has the silence and complicity of different players like the US, Russia and Pakistan contributed to making a once-flourishing country into an endless desert?

Kabir Khan’s film makes us ask all these questions inside of us, but thankfully, not in a dry as dust manner. It is mainly the comic touches – the indignation felt by Arshad Warsi when anybody asks him for one of his limited stock of cigarettes, the irony of what is lost in translation between the Indian journalists, the American woman and the locals, and the sudden shots of gunfire that make us all jump in our seats – that make the film such a great ride.

Afghanistan may no longer be in the world news, but the questions that the experience of this country raises for modern humanity need to be understood and felt by all of us. By taking us in to never-before-seen territory, Kabul Express has really done us a service.

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