It was brave of Kabir Khan to make Bajrangi Bhaijaan – a well-intentional effort that steers clear of every possible stereotype attached to a Bollywood pot-boiler. Salman Khan was not in his Rajini Khan mode, there was no Pakistan bashing and the message was clear, as Kabir Khan likes to put it – people-to-people relations. And, this is where Bajrangi Bhaijaan triumphs.
Kabir started his career as a documentary filmmaker and got his big break through Kabul Express, which became a surprise hit. He is the only filmmaker in Bollywood right now who tries to make overtly political movies, making geo-political references surrounding terrorism in South Asia as well as North America and how it has unbalanced world affairs. Kabul Express was again very different from a typical Bollywood movie. It was about two Indian journalists trapped in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Critics saw in it a highly nuanced take on war reporting as well as a treatise on terrorism and jihad and how it affects India.
New York, once again starring John Abraham after his collaboration with Kabir in Kabul Express, proved to be a compassionate tale of post 9/11 America and how Muslims often get victimized without a fault of their own. Along with John Abraham, Katrina Kaif, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Irrfan Khan, New York became pivotal to Bollywood as much as My Name is Khan or Kurbaan – two films that tried to deal with, and dispel, Islamophobia. It was a brave new Bollywood as it decided to tackle issues that affected many and Kabir was at the forefront leading a small uprising of sorts.
Of course, his background in documentary helped a great deal to understand the political conflict ravaging the world.
Next: Ek Tha Tiger that finally propelled Kabir to the big league and a director to reckon with. Ek Tha Tiger, starring Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif, was essentially the love story of a spy done right. If you remember the Sunny Deol starrer Hero: The Love Story of a Spy, then Ek Tha Tiger convinces the viewer that there exists a certain genre in Bollywood that can take matters in its own hands and do it well. Ek That Tiger was a stupendous commercial success and this was where Kabir Khan made another statement – how the political machinery in India and Pakistan didn’t allow the two countries to live in harmony.
Kabir’s latest Bajrangi Bhaijaan has become a phenomenon of sorts, going on to break several box-office records. A simple tale of Hanuman Bhakt Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi helping a mute Pakistani girl return to her country has won the approval of both the audiences as well as the critics alike with many calling it Salman Khan’s finest performance in years. What made Bajrangi Bhaijaan really work is the way the story was handled and its messaging – ‘Give peace a chance.’ What’s even more delightful is the fact that it has even won hearts in Pakistan where Bollywood movies regularly face bans.
Kabir’s next is the political thriller Phantom and as the trailer suggests, it tries to avoid Pakistan bashing and solely focuses on providing an alternative scenario of post 26/11 events.
With Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif and a host of other talented actors, Phantom might just get the cash registers ringing. I make this statement because Bollywood often lacks serious spy dramas. Agent Vinod was wonderful but the hackneyed ending ruined a rather impressive movie while Baby was a stupendous success.
With Kabir Khan at helm, Phantom simply might work magic. Whatever Kabir touches these days, it turns into box-office gold.