Kabul Express

Kabul Express


Reviewed by: Chris

I remember many, many years ago, someone said to me, "I don't think Andy's coming - do you want his place?" Before even the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, before the Middle East became a constant war-ground, a number of my friends would follow the 'hippy trail' overland to India through the strange and wonderful lands on the way like Afghanistan. I didn't go. I often dreamt of the strange civilisations of Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan: lands of jinn, ancient cultures, strange customs. Today, visiting Afghanistan for a Westerner is almost unthinkable, travelling there overland probably suicidal. Understanding the country through anything but a western political lens is almost impossible.

How refreshing to see a film made there with care and attention to authenticity. A film that is half thriller, half comedy. And one that conveys some of the complex attitudes of a warring people for whom it is the only home they ever know or want.

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Indian director Kabir Khan, although he needs considerable security, is able to come and go much more easily than any Westerner could. I can't imagine even Mel Gibson going out to Kabul to make a motion picture right now. Khan's actors are all cast according to their nationality.

Two Indian rookie reporters make the strangest roadtrip ever - trying to get an exclusive story on the Taliban following 9/11. They meet up with an Afghan driver, a gorgeous American Reuters photographer, and a Pakistani 'Talib' who by turns holds them hostage or doesn't. They are waylaid by police, bandits and mujahedin as they make a treacherous trip across a vivid no-man's-land, through breathtaking scenery, to the border. On the way they discover much about the complexities underlying Afghanistan as well as about themselves and each other.

Kabul Express is the first feature film to be shot extensively in Kabul after the official end of the Taliban's reign, and it demonstrates the director's love of the country and its people as well as an incredible sense of humour that both accurately portrays and caricatures all the various races involved.

The film seems to have no particular political agenda, and if the Taliban and Pakistan probably come off a bit worse than anybody else, the locals who reinstate fairly barbaric time-honoured sports and customs are not a picture of civilised thinking either. The different reactions of our travellers to a game involving tearing an animal to bits, or beating a couple of Talibs to death with bare hands, speak volumes.

In one particularly moving scene, an extremely resourceful Taliban fighter is reunited with his daughter. I found the moment where she only lifts her burka (veil) secretly watching him depart particularly heart-wrenching.

Kabul Express is a film made by an Indian company and not totally divorced from bias - there's no love lost between India and the Taliban over Kashmir, for instance - but as it's not the bias we are used to in the West it is nevertheless a invigorating look into a country that has become almost unintelligible. It may be uncomfortable or even disjointed viewing for anyone emotionally locked into a politicised and over-simplified picture of Afghanistan, but if you can put that aside for an hour or so it is truly an eye-opener.

While not exactly a blockbuster, the film comes across as warm, genuine and exciting. It displays a range of humour I've rarely come across. I am also indebted to several Indian members of the audience without whose laughter I would have missed several subtle and very Indian-type jokes.

Kabul Express is a rare film experience and I strongly recommend it.

Reviewed on: 23 Dec 2006
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Two reporters journey through Afghanistan trying to get a story on the Taliban.
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Director: Kabir Khan

Writer: Kabir Khan

Starring: John Abraham, Linda Arsenio, Hanif Hum Ghum, Salman Shahid, Arshad Warsi

Year: 2006

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: India


London 2006

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