Probably one of the most horrific tragedies that I have ever witnessed was the terrorist attack on New York on September 11, 2001. I still remember my thoughts at the time, as I could only observe the second World Trade Center Tower come crashing down. If that wasn’t horrible enough to witness with one’s own eyes, the rampant paranoia in the days following the event were even more difficult to experience.
In the short time after 9/11, having brown skin immediately brought with it the stigma of suspicion and fear. This suspicion and fear not only came from some private citizens, but also from the people in authority. There were stories of Sikhs being beaten up by groups of civilians, and if that were not disturbing enough, there were the whispered tales of innocent Indians, Pakistanis and Middle Eastern individuals being detained.
The whispers continued, telling of the harsh treatment of these detained people, even though they were innocent. For sure the days during and right after are dark times for everyone around the world.
We’ve seen Hollywood deal with the tragedy in several films, but now it’s Bollywood’s turn with the aptly titled “New York” which deals more on the aftermath of the tragedy and the out of control paranoid fear that eventually harmed even more innocent people.
Now some reviewers have claimed that ‘New York’ is not about 9/11, and that is false. You cannot say that, because without the tragedy of 9/11 you could not have a movie like ‘New York’. If the basic plotline of an innocent man being wrongly accused, accosted, and tortured by authorities who think he might be a terrorist sounds familiar to the basic plot of excellent Pakistani film, “Khuda Kay Liye”, then you are right. It’s the way that the screenplay of ‘New York’ unfolds the drama, the director’s vision, and the stellar cast that make the Bollywood film different than its Pakistani counterpart.
Director Kabir Khan may not be a household name, but he has proven to be quite a good filmmaker with his past release “Kabul Express” and the documentary, “The Forgotten Army”. It’s not often that a very good documentary maker can jump genres to become a very good filmmaker, but lucky for us that he was able to do so, and seems to be getting better with each film. His direction truly sets “New York” miles ahead of most other Bollywood releases, resulting in a film that should be universally accepted by not only the masala crowd, but also by the serious minded as well. The movie would be much less in the hands of a less capable director.
The story revolves around the tried and trusted formula of three friends Sam (John Abraham), Omar (Neil Nitin Mukesh) and Maya (Katrina Kaif). They meet, they bond, they begin to build the foundations of a friendship that should last a lifetime, until that friendship is torn under post 9/11. All films need an antagonist, and this time around it’s Agent Roshan (Irrfan Khan) whose actions provide the catalyst for all the twists and turns of the plot.
Yash Raj Films has produced one of their best as “New York” is entertaining from first frame to last. The three lead actors each act with sincerity. This is, without doubt John Abraham’s best film, as the normally wooden actor shows a remarkable emotional depth this time out. Neil Nitin Mukesh captivates the audience in every frame he is in and disappears into the character of Omar. Katrina Kaif, who is normally relegated to playing female caricatures, finally shows that she can portray a realistic character, and is truly a fine actor. She holds her own against the guys and audiences will remember her performance. Irrfan Khan is solid as ever.
The music by Pritam is catchy and familiar enough to be pleasant. Luckily for us, Kabir Khan makes sure that songs are not just dropped into the narrative in a disruptive way, which would have spelled doom for a movie like this. Instead we get an organic progression from narrative to song and back again.
The rest of the production team, from cinematography, background score, and set design have all done a very commendable job. An A class effort, “New York” is that rare thought provoking, yet entertaining film wherein director, actors, and screenplay all deliver their best resulting in a movie that stays with you even after it is finished.