It's a film which is entertaining and worth a trip to the theatres to watch.
By MovieTalkies.com, 26 June 2009
Although many have said that New York has come a few years too late, it in fact has released at the perfect time. The film is not only about the grave injustice that many South Asians and especially Muslims went through post the horrific 9/11 attacks, it is also an attempt to give insight to how sometimes a person who is as normal as anyone else, takes up terrorism as an act to avenge personal injustice not one which is necessarily revolving around religious fanaticism. In that sense, the fact that New York itself is a film showing events 7 years post 9/11 works, because it tries to make the audience realize what the event and its aftermath created a situation which we are living with today and an almost sickening feeling that the event set into motion something which may not have any end since almost a decade later, the wheels are still spinning. First and foremost, director Kabir Khan and Yash Raj Productions should be applauded for undertaking such a difficult theme and attempting to address very profound issues and their implications. However, it is possibly because of the nature of the plot that one is slightly disappointed with the overall outcome of the final product not because New York is not a decent film, but because somewhere you are left feeling it could have been a brilliant film, but falls a bit short.
The film starts in current times where Omar (a slightly uncomfortable Neil Nitin Mukesh) has been arrested by FBI officer Roshan (Irrfan Khan straight out of Slumdog Millionaire), having been falsely implicated in carrying illegal weapons. It is revealed through the interrogations that Omar has been arrested only to force him to help the FBI in spying on his old college friend Sam (an effective John Abraham) whom they suspect to be a terrorist. Here we are taken into a flashback which reveals the story of three friends, Omar, Sam and Maya (Katrina Kaif in one of her best performances till date) studying together in college. Omar has just come from Delhi, his first time ever outside of India, while Maya and Sam have both been brought up in America. In fact, Sam is the quintessential American boy who hardly has any other India friends, is a huge football fan (that's American football) who loves attention and achieves it by winning races through the corridors of the campus (almost right out of Main Hoon Na) and beating everyone in chess. There is an undercurrent love triangle (Sam and Maya are in love and eventually marry while Om also loves Maya) which always remains an undercurrent only, probably to explain Omar's absence from the lives of Maya and Sam for those 7 years and also supports certain motivations of Omar and Maya's characters such as why Omar leaves post 9/11 and why he wants to prove the FBI wrong. Their lives are changed by two incidents one is Omar's discovery of the fact that Maya loves Sam and not him and the other is the terrorist attack of the World Trade Centre. When Omar re enters the couple's life, he discovers that Sam had been arrested 10 days post the 9/11 attacks without any wrong doing and without any evidence against him and was held in custody in a detention centre in the most horrific of conditions, without the rights that every citizen of America is entitled to and completely stripped of his dignity only because he was a Muslim. The rest of the film revolves around what these 9 months do to Sam and how they change him and his outlook completely.
Firstly, if these events sound too farfetched because we nurse a belief that in America the judicial system is fair and everyone is innocent until proven guilty then the fact is that such illegal detentions did occur (which in fact gave birth to the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention centre which has only recently been shut) and innocent people were tortured and stripped of their dignity. As is mentioned in the supers at the end of the film, approximately 1200 innocent people were tortured and detained in a similar manner.
The chemistry between the 3 lead characters in the college portions is strong and John is extremely believable as the American born anglicized Sam which makes his arrest on suspicion of terrorism seem even more unbelievable and outrageous, which is of course the emotion the director intended to evoke. The portions in the detention centre, including the nude shoot of John are the few scenes which do send shivers up your spine and make you wonder how this could happen in a country which speaks of the "The Great American Dream" and to a person who is an American citizen without connections to any religious outfit. However it is from this point onwards that he film begins to falter because director Kabir Khan chooses to become a bit filmy and cliched. Somewhere the subtly is lost and when a point needs to be made, it is preached and spelt out rather than shown through the development of the characters. More time should have been spent on what Sam goes through once he is released from the detention centre rather than just the montage romantic song between him and Maya. In fact, even Maya's character could have had a lot more depth in terms of being a support to Sam in her attempts to heal his wounds and understand his suffering. It is actually in this emotional development of the characters that the film falls short because they all become one dimensional, either good or bad which in such a realistic story, makes the characters unable to garner any emotional connect from the audience. Roshan's boss, the white FBI chief is a caricature and the incident involving the employee of Sam's company could have been completed omitted in order to allow more time to give layers to the characters of the three main protagonists.
Kabir Khan deserves kudos for not making the film one about religious motivations. In fact, even the revenge angle comes across clearly as being one directed towards the people (a group of people but not a particular religion, cast or nationality) who caused Sam's loss of dignity and at no point do we see a religious side to Sam. It is possibly an attempt to show that all acts of terrorism are not linked to religion and many are in fact creations of the actions of the super power Americans and some of the blunders throughout history that they have made, especially when dealing with terrorism. Yet this would have been more effective if we had more insight into Sam's mind, what he was feeling, why he felt the need to undertake the mission etc. Too many things are left unexplained, leaving his character flat. The same applies to Maya, her relationship with Sam, her confrontation with Omar when she points the gun at him and the scene following that and even to a certain extent Omar, although his is probably the more defined character of the three. Being unable to emotionally connect with the audience and have them feel for the characters is the only major flaw of the film. Sadly, it is this flaw which makes New York unable to register the type of impact such a film should; unable to make people think even after the film is over. As a result, it is neither dramatic and emotional enough, nor does its slow pace allow it to succeed as a thriller. The fact that you don't shed a tear in the climax only goes to show that although the film's heart was in the right place, it isn't quite able to reach the heart of the audience.
The film looks beautiful and New York is shown as the New York where Americans live (not just where Indians live) and so for a change we see real locations aside from Times Square. The cinematography is splendid although certain clichéd close ups are continuously resorted to and one wonders if the larger than life scale has actually worked against the film. The background is good in parts but the action is weakly choreographed in a couple of key sequences. In terms of performances, John is without a doubt the best he is understated, brilliant in the detention centre sequences and even when he speaks to Omar after the incident with the drug dealer. Katrina has improved in terms of her expressions tremendously and some of her reactions are extremely believable and natural. One wishes she were give a free hand to decide when to speak in English and when in Hindi especially in a film like New York which could have easily allowed that, because at times the switch caused her to slow her speech down, creating an unneeded distraction and over emphasis on the accent. Neil is strictly okay in the film although he is good in scenes when he has to deliver straight faced one liners (like in the car when he is asked if he has a licence) and his reactiono in the one scene where he feels that he has discovered the Sam is definitely not a terrorist (the scene after the drug dealer episode where Sam blasts him and walks away) is effective. Sadly Irrfan Khan has played the FBI character to be a continuation of his police inspector role in Slumdog Millionaire and since his character in New York is a bit flat, he doesn't get much scope to perform.
On a whole, New York ends up as a decent Bollywood film, when it could have been a great piece of world cinema. That is probably why you walk away a bit disappointed, wondering what would have been the outcome of the film had it not been plagued with certain Bollywood cliches and filminess. All said and done, New York is for sure a film which is entertaining and worth a trip to the theatres to watch.