J.P. Dutta. The name alone is enough to arouse the curiosity for a film. Add to it Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor and you expect the ultimate in entertainment. But, unfortunately, J.P.’s latest venture REFUGEE falls short of expectations.
REFUGEE tells the story of a youth who believes he doesn’t belong to any of the nations — India or Pakistan. Living in a hamlet located on the border of Pakistan, Refugee (that’s what he is called by the villagers!) carries out the illegal activity of taking civilians to Pakistan and forth. It is at this juncture that he meets a Bangladeshi family (Kulbhushan Kharbanda-Padmini Kapila), who intend migrating to Pakistan.
The journey to Pakistan changes the course of his life — he falls in love with the pretty Naaz (Kareena Kapoor), the daughter of the Bangladeshi. The girl too reciprocates his feelings. But the lovers face an uphill task, for:
(i) Naaz is now settled in Pakistan, while he stays in India.
(ii) The head of the security keeping a strict vigil on the border of Pakistan, Ashraf (Sunil Shetty), a Pakistani, falls for the innocent charms of Naaz and wants to marry her. Naaz’s family agrees to this match, not realising that their daughter’s heart yearns for Refugee;
(iii) The Border Security Force in India has learnt of the illegal activities of Refugee and wants to take him to task.
After the immensely successful BORDER, which tackled the Indo-Pak war in 1971, J.P. has tackled the Indo-Pak issue once again. A love story of this genre has never been witnessed earlier, which makes it a novel experience. The Rann of Kutch has never been captured to perfection on celluloid earlier, which makes the film a visual treat. But the fault lies with the script of the film, which does not arouse patriotic feelings, nor does it make your heart cry for the lovers, separated by a thin line of control.
The fault lies in the fact that the first half moves at a leisurely pace. J.P.’s story telling is stylish, but his narration of the story leaves a sour taste in the mouth. There are too many sequences in the first half, some significant and some that could be done without, which unnecessarily adds to the length of the film. The first half does not leave an impact whatsoever because there is not much of a movement / turn in the story.
The second half is better and the by-now-famous J.P. touch is apparent in several sequences:
(i) Mukesh Tiwari torturing Abhishek Bachchan and sending him back to India;
(ii) Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s outburst when the Pakistani security checks the locals residing in the village;
(iii) The meeting of the two security officers of the neighbouring countries — Jackie and Sunil, respectively — and the dialogue they exchange… But sequences like these are far too less to undo the damage.
What dilutes the impact to a great extent is the fact that the film runs on three tracks simultaneously:
(i) The love story of the two principal characters;
(ii) The love story of Ashraf, who loves Naaz dearly;
(iii) The Indo-Pak issue.
As a director, J.P. has extracted fine performances, selected the best of music and captured the hitherto unexplored locales of Kutch to perfection, but as a writer, it seems he wanted to convey too many things at the same time. What could’ve been said in 16/17 reels is stretched to 20 reels and it gets cumbersome after a point.
The fault also lies with the loose editing of the film. The terrorists’ take-over of the hamlet in the Indian territory in the pre-climax could’ve been avoided, for it is akin to adding one more track towards the latter part of the film. Similarly, the best song in this enterprise — ‘Panchi Nadiya Pawan Ke Jhonke’ — comes at a point when the viewer wants to know the outcome of the love story. Ditto for ‘Teri Ek Jhalak Jo Payi Hai’, which comes before the film comes to an end; this song too adds to the length.
Even the ending is quite a letdown, for a much more dramatic end was the need of the hour. The very last scene of the film — Naaz delivering a baby on the border of the two countries — was a novel way to end the love story, but the J.P. touch is missing here.
Anu Malik’s music and Javed Akhtar’s poetry are a treat to the ears. Every song is inspiring and comes like a whiff of fresh air. But the pick of the lot is ‘Panchi Nadiya Pawan Ke Jhonke’ (never mind the placement of this song!) and ‘Taal Se Jab Yeh’. The choreography in every song is simple, in keeping with the mood of the film. Bashir Ali’s cinematography is brilliant at places and mediocre at times. Every film of J.P. has always been embellished with great camerawork, but it is not so this time. The background score is first-rate.
A lot is expected from Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor for obvious reasons. But first Abhishek. On a scale of 10, Abhishek’s performance deserves 7 marks, dialogue delivery 8 and overall personality 9. There is certain awkwardness in the boy that is so likeable. He may not be possessing great looks or a physique which would be the envy of all the heroes, but the youngster has all it takes to emerge a competent actor in times to come. Even in his debut-making film, Abhishek comes across as a fine actor and lives up to his family name.
Kareena Kapoor has a magnetic personality, which will make the viewer fall in love with her instantly. On a scale of 10, Kareena’s performance deserves 9 marks, dialogue delivery 8 and overall personality 10. What surprises you is the ease with which she emotes the most difficult of scenes, that too against experienced performers. There’s no denying the fact that she is a natural performer who is very camera friendly.
Sunil Shetty is excellent in a role that was difficult to portray. This is among his finest performances. Jackie Shroff is passable, displaying the sparks in a few scenes only. Anupam Kher is outstanding yet again. The expressions in the scene when he learns of his son’s involvement in the train blast are noteworthy. Kulbhushan Kharbanda is amazing in that one scene where he gets ample scope to prove his mettle. Reena Roy is nice. Ashish Vidyarthi is mediocre. Shadaab Khan is effective enough to make his presence felt. Avtar Gill, Sudesh Berry, Mukesh Tiwari, Arif Zakaria, Padmini Kapila and Vishwajeet Pradhan lend able support.
On the whole, REFUGEE has flashes of brilliance by a master craftsman J.P. Dutta, but is not brilliant in totality. The film lacks a gripping screenplay to keep the viewer glued to the screen for 3 hours, 20 minutes. Heavy trimming by at least thirty minutes is recommended, for it will help the film to a great extent. Businesswise, the historic opening all over the country will help the film to an extent, but the collections will decline after the initial curiosity subsides.