Critic's Rating: 19/5
Friday 10 August 2001
J P Dutta
NOTHING about J P Dutta`s Refugee is right. Not the story, not the length of the film and most certainly, not the choice of his male lead star. It has a slender storyline, padded out of recognition. With a running length of more than three hours, which should ideally be snipped to not more than two and a half-hours there are long periods when the movement of the film comes to a halt.
The film begins with the introduction of a Bihari Muslim, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, who with his family, wife, Padmini Kapila, daughter Kareena Kapoor and other relatives has come from Bangladesh and is waiting to be guided across the Kutch border into Pakistan where he hopes a better life awaits him. The guide, who specialises in smuggling people and other sundry items across the border, is Abhishek Bachchan, poignantly called Refugee since his parentage is unknown.
They succeed in crossing and begin life on the other side. Abhishek returns to India with Kareena`s heart. The love story flourishes as Abhishek moves between India and Pakistan as if he was crossing a road. Kareena who is quite vocal about the fact that she loves him and wants to set up home with him pursues the affair with vigour. At a later point she seduces him too and gets pregnant, rather a forward thing for the burkha-clad girl to do.
But that isn`t really the point because the film isn`t about love anymore, forbidden or otherwise. It is about borders, about them and us, about Hindus and Muslims, about good and bad. So we meet Sunil Shetty and Jackie Shroff, both men in command on either side, Sunil in Pakistan and Jackie in India. Both have hearts of gold. Though their job is to stop people crossing the border they actually do so only when the script demands it. At other times they are marvellously inept.
Kareena`s unwed pregnancy doesn`t evoke any rage (unlike some films where the whole story is based on it) because it is just one more pawn to further the rhetoric the film is propagating. Aren`t Hindus and Muslims all humans, it asks, Aren`t Indians and Pakistanis brothers, it ponders and isn`t the ground on either side of the border, one, it thunders. So many questions and so much time taken to ask them.
Very conveniently, the child is born in no-mans land between the two borders. J P Dutta who has written and directed the film is unfocused.
The viewpoint of the film is fractured, sometimes moving off at a tangent and then suddenly reverting back. This and the shoddy editing make viewing the film an uncomfortable experience.
Starring two young people from major film families, the film has evoked a lot of curiosity and the verdict is -- Kareena Kapoor is a consummate actress, performing in her first film better than many do after several. Abhishek Bachchan has a long way to go. Not only is he self-conscious, he is not very comfortable with himself either. He doesn`t suit the role given to him and though he has a good voice he needs to learn to use it effectively.
Sunil and Jackie are both good. Most of the supporting cast too performs creditably. Music by Anu Malik is melodious and would have grown in popularity if the film had been better. There is little to recommend in Refugee. Picking good scenes is like picking a needle in a haystack and that is hardly anybody`s idea of fun, is it?