New York – Dir: Kabir Khan, *ing: John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Katrina Kaif, Irrfan Khan
Omar (Mukesh), an Indian living in the US, is framed by the FBI on a trumped-up weapons charge and then forced by Agent Roshan (Khan) to co-operate in bringing down old college buddy Sameer (Abraham) who has turned to terrorism after being illegally detained and tortured following the September 11 attacks. Matters are further complicated because Sameer’s wife is Omar’s old flame Maya (Kaif).
In various circles, New York has been accused of having a Khuda Ke Liye hangover, but that really is a non-starter of an issue so let’s dispense with it without another word. First the (admittedly meager) good news: it isn’t abysmal, the all-important ‘look’ is slick, Irrfan Khan is mesmerizing as always, Abraham and Mukesh are competent (and more than easy on the eyes), if inconsistent, Kaif dials downs the cutesy factor a tad to come off as less grating than usual, and there is a nice musical montage or two.
The problem here is that as a piece of cinematic text, New York is so devoid of a political viewpoint, so lacking in narrative cojones, that it fails almost completely to stir up some sort of critical response, leaving one to shrug one’s shoulders and go, “Uh huh, well, okay.” Firstly, NY’s main characters are a cop-out; there is nothing faintly ‘Muslim’ or even South-Asian about them, other than the fact that they speak Hindi; all three are pretty and perfect and utterly ‘safe’, liberal, Westernised, non-threatening, fun-loving preppies, so that we are pretty much bullied into sympathizing with them – “see these nice, broad-minded, homogenized Indian-American Moslems being harassed by the nasty FBI, ain’t that a shame?” It would have made for a far more challenging and politically pertinent narrative had the protagonists at least remotely resembled a more archetypal ‘Muslim’ profile that has more typically been the target of ethnic profiling and resulting detentions. Perhaps the filmmaker deduced that the audience would more readily identify with and accept tequila-swilling, hottie-snogging Muslims, rather than ones sporting beards and hijabs – no, that would’ve made them just too hard to root for. Secondly, Sameer’s radicalization is also robbed of any ideological colouring; it comes off as mere personal vendetta rather than a response to the systematic persecution of a community, no matter how misplaced. His torture at the hands of the authorities may be brutal but it may as well be out of a Bond movie so drained of political substance is it (the verbal testimony of a minor character about torture of detainees is infinitely more compelling). There isn’t a whiff in the whole film of religion or even religious cultures. So much so that one is left with the distinct feeling that NY didn’t have to be about Muslims in a post-9/11 world at all – it could just as well have been any old little-man-against-the-big-bad-world revenge tale. A shame really, considering that there aren’t nearly enough films being made out there which examine the fallout of the so-called War on Terror on the countless innocent lives being racked up as collateral damage.
The makers of the film have reaped much publicity out of the tidbit that John Abraham studied the Quran in order to prepare for his part. After watching the film, one can only ask: what ever for?