After the long drought caused by the producers’ strike in Bollywood, viewers will enjoy New York, which is a refreshing change from the typical Yash Raj film. Aditya Chopra’s production house has consistently churned out mainstream blockbusters, with a few exceptions like Chak de India, and Kabir Khan’s debut film,Kabul Express. With New York, Khan deals with a Muslim-centric subject, minus the stereotypical perceptions of the community that we so often see in films of this genre.
Omar(Mukesh) is a foreign student from India, who befriends Maya(Kaif) and Sam(Abraham), both having grown up in the United States. Omar adapts to the life of an American college student through these friendships—only to have his world change after 9/11.
Cut to several years into the future. FBI Agent Roshan(Irrfan Khan) has arrested Omar as a suspected terrorist. This leads to the unfolding of an interesting story, as Omar is manipulated both by the FBI, and the world of “terrorists” he is forced to enter—all while trying to prove his innocence and the innocence of his friend Sam.
Director Kabir Khan keeps the audience engaged throughout. There are several interesting exchanges between Roshan, who, despite being a Muslim, feels nothing but pride and patriotism towards America in these dire circumstances, and Omar, who questions the motives and tactics of the FBI every step of the way. What makes these exchanges interesting is that neither side wins, and one can see the validity in both sides of the argument.
However, the film does begin to drag in the second half, as we are taken into a long flashback of Sam’s life, and venture into a subplot involving Maya’s clients. Luckily, the film doesn’t have too many songs, so the pacing manages to hold on to the audiences’ attention span. While situations are well-developed, they often fall flat during execution, and one is not as emotionally affected as one would expect.
Mukesh proves again that he is a solid actor, and here to stay. Abraham is good, and audiences will easily empathize with him. Most surprising is Kaif, who plays a very un-glamorous role, and despite her terrible Hindi dialogue delivery, is convincing. Khan is the best of the lot, which is really no surprise. He takes a role that could have very easily become clichéd, and plays it powerfully.
Kabir Khan knows how to make films of an off-beat subject that appeal to the mainstream audience, minus the glitz and glamour which is often an essential component of Bollywood films. Overall, New York is worth watching, not only for the performances, but to see a perspective that has rarely been told by mainstream Indian cinema.
Antara Brahma is an independent filmmaker based in San Francisco.