Kurbaan

Kurbaan
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, Om Puri, Dia Mirza, Kirron Kher

Director: Rensil D' Silva

Rating:***

A newly-married couple relocates from New Delhi to New York, and discovers there is more to their academically-inclined lifeódriving off from their suburban home every morning to teach, and coming back in the evening with groceries--- than meets the eye. In the house across lives a closed group of people, and everything starts to unravel rapidly when one of them, a desperate young woman in a 'hijaab', shows up at their doorstep, scared for her life.

As Avantika (Kareena Kapoor) and Ehsaan (Saif Ali Khan) get sucked into a never-ending spiral of fear and intrigue and terror, 'Kurbaan' stays on-track in its resolve to tell a story of substance. Written sharply by producer Karan Johar, and directed intelligently by first-timer Rensil D'Silva, the film enunciates, with admirable clarity, contemporary conundrums: of beliefs and religious identity and differing points of view, of being Muslim and wondering where the term 'moderate' fits in, of being human and feeling hurt and living by the sword. Or bombs, as the case might be.

I went to see 'Kurbaan' with some trepidation, not knowing how these elements, done to death in a certain kind of 'realistic' Hollywood film, and used, badly, in this year's 'New York', would pan out. I'm happy to report that it raises the near-defunct issue-based cinema in Bollywood to the next level. There is no unnecessary song-and-dance, or stiltedness and preaching.

The lines are free-flowing and natural, minus rhetoric, and the characters are believable: you could meet people like Avantika, Ehsaan and investigative journalist Riyaaz (Vivek Oberoi), off screen.

It's not as if the director has refused to make concessions to the starry status of his lead couple, with Kareena displaying a daringly naked back, and Saif showcasing a bare brawny torso, the bloody rivulets just so. Or that D'Silva doesn't fall into the self-indulgent trap all debutants do, to keep it too long: the second half drags, and the last half-hour telegraphs its punches. But you overlook these because, at its core, 'Kurbaan' has power and resonance.

It is also that rare Hindi film which has a real pair of lovers. Saif and Kareena flirt and kiss and cuddle and have a hard time keeping their hands off each other. Both play well together, but it is Khan who grabs you much more: when he is on, you see the character, not the actor. There is also a welcome lived-in rhythm that D'Silva manages to set up for them, even if there is an abruptness in the transitions, from happy to angry to despairing.

'Kurbaan' raises thorny questions, and prepares us for tough answers. It is an important, relevant film.

(shubhra.gupta@expressindia.com)

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