As fun as it is to sit around and speculate about the best films in this year’s festival, it’s just as pleasurable (if not more) to pick the worst. While it’s still too early to make a definitive call, my early vote goes to Kabir Khan’s Kabul Express, an awkward monstrosity of a film produced by legendary Bollywood director Aditya Chopra.
The film’s aims are admirable. It tells the story of two neophyte Indian journalists (Water’s John Abraham and Arshad Warsi) who touch down outside of Kabul just after American forces have flooded into Afghanistan. Their search for Taliban leads to their eventual kidnapping and forced drive—along with their Afghan driver and a dogged American photojournalist—to the Pakistani border. A myriad of absurd turns and hiccups ensue, all of which results in everyone shedding their respective prejudices. The Taliban hijacker, for example, turns out to be a really lovely (if surly) Pakistani military man who loves Bollywood songs and cricket.
So why is it so bad? Let me count the ways: Its saccharine sentimentality is stomach-turning. Its dialogue is some of the most leaden I’ve heard in years. Linda Arsenio (the American journalist) is embarrassingly wooden; And despite the film’s attempts to humanize the hijacker, he remains laughably cartoonish (Jean Reno meets Christopher Lloyd).
If a film’s ambitions are meagre, it’s possible to forgive wretched dialogue and paper-thin characterizations. But when a movie aspires to change the world and seriously engage contemporary events, such failings are all the more egregious. Indian cinema can and should aim for big things. But this attempt is best left forgotten.
Kabul Express screens Friday, Sept. 15, 6 p.m. (Visa Screening Room (Elgin)); Saturday, Sept. 16, 9:30 a.m. (Paramount 1)