Date:29/06/2009 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2009/06/29/stories/2009062950320100.htm
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True tales

Kabir Khan says “New York” tells the 9/11 story the media missed



Looking for drama Kabir Khan

Kabir Khan is among the usual suspects in Bollywood when it comes to making films that include unsafe subjects, locations and schedules. His debut feature film on the Taliban, Kabul Express in 2006 may not have met with major box office success, but his efforts were appreciated. He shot amidst threats from the Taliban and gunshots in the region. His second film New York that was released this Friday to a good response, too, deals with a topical and somewhat controversial issue — the ill-treatment of Muslims in New York post 9/11, as well as prejudices against the brown-skinned. It also gains currency because of the recent racial attacks on Asians in Australia.

“I have never been interested in films without a context. It has not been a conscious effort to become a sort of ‘war specialist’. I just found that in conflicting situations, you get more dramatic stories,” says Khan, whose very first documentary, The Unforgotten Army in 1999, explored the reasons behind Subhash Chandra Bose’s sudden disappearance.

Kabir, a post graduate in Mass Communications from Jamia Millia Islamia, chose to make New York from his personal experience of witnessing Muslims being tortured in the city after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The film is the story of three friends, Sameer (John Abraham), Maya (Katrina Kaif) and Omar, who study in New York, and whose relationship undergoes a drastic change post 9/11.

The gap

Recalls the 39-year-old director, “I was in New York at the time of the attack. I could see how people reacted soon after the incident. Prejudices crept into relationships, and a feeling of distrust filled the air. I was held by the FBI thrice because my surname is Khan. Whenever something of this kind happens in foreign countries, we switch on the BBC and CNN and believe whatever news they give. Who will fill the gap between what actually happened and what is being reported? What the FBI and CIA did post 9/11 remains undocumented. These incidents upset me. I did my own research and found out many untold realities. That’s how New York was born.”

The story goes up to 2008 in the film. Kabir reasons, “Prejudices have a tendency to spill over. You can’t a take diagnostic view of it.”

In this Rs.24 crore film, shot in New York over 100 days, Kabir has shown torture techniques used in New York jails like water boarding, in which the undertrial is floated on water and his body is hit from beneath. The constant hitting makes water spring from the nostrils. Says Kabir, “The U.K. government officials told me that this technique doesn’t come under ‘torture’ in New York jail terminology, so we could show it. Other techniques of torture are way beyond our imagination, so neither were we ‘allowed’ to show them nor did I want to scare my audiences.”

But Kabir has told the story entertainingly — through a love story between Sameer and Maya, and friendship between the three. “The film’s USP is its emotional quotient,” he says.

Since Kabir doesn’t believe in stereotypes, he didn’t think it was necessary to show Sameer and Omar speaking good Urdu. “A lot of Muslims boys and girls don’t speak Urdu.”

Whether the film creates a dialogue or not, Kabir says as a creative personality, his job is over. “I am a tale-teller. I don’t bother to see whether it brings a revolution or not.”

RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN

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