Kabir movie review: Dev-starrer is a pleasantly satisfying watch — if you lower your expectations

Kabir brings viewers a different and much-improved Dev on screen after a slew of terrible performances

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay April 23, 2018 15:14:25 IST


Aniket Chattopadhyay’s latest Bengali film Kabir is an out and out exercise in contradictions. There are quite a few facets of the movie that make it an immensely enjoyable watch. And yet, there are several drawbacks which tend to pull it down every time you begin to root for the film, making it all slightly better-than-average fare in the end. If you step into the theatre with really low expectations, with lessons learnt from Bengal’s reigning superstar Dev’s recent choice of projects, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Anything else, and there’s a chance you might come away underwhelmed.

The story of Kabir begins in Mumbai. As the city reels under the terror and agony of a series of bomb blasts, a young woman named Yasmin Khatun is taking a non-stop train to Kolkata from VT station. When a seemingly charming and courteous young co-passenger named Abir Chatterjee takes her hostage in the crowded train, the plot suddenly begins to look astonishingly similar to the delicious little 2005 Wes Craven thriller Red Eye. But you soon realise that things are not as they initially seemed, and what's taking place is far more complex. As one shocking event after another come alive on screen, you also understand that Abir is not exactly who he says he is, and that he has a sinister plan.

Kabir movie review Devstarrer is a pleasantly satisfying watch  if you lower your expectations

Poster for Kabir

While the story moves forward with breakneck speed — just as the train within which the main events unfold — there are extended sequences of flashbacks which sometime feel a tad too overlong. Writer and director Aniket Chattopadhyay manages to maintain a taut screenplay, but only at places. His handling of the unreliable narrator device is pretty deft, but then he goes ahead and plays the Muslim patriot card once too often.

Dev, who has been receiving severe critical flak for his recent performances, begins the film with a much-needed and well-appreciated calm reserve, and there are moments in which he really shines as the mysterious, charming and dangerous stranger that a young lady regrets befriending. One of the biggest highlights of his performance comes early on, when he takes a dig at himself, claiming that his character can’t speak proper Bengali. A tongue-in-cheek remark in the context of his critics who have been mocking him over the years for not being able to speak the language, the scene highlights the lighter side of the actor without getting into such gimmicks as breaking the fourth wall. As they say, it is not easy to laugh at oneself, and Dev does this gracefully and momentarily wins our heart. I wish I could say that he is able to maintain the reserve required of his character throughout the film. However, without a shred of doubt, this is a different and much-improved Dev you’ll be seeing on screen after a slew of terrible performances.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said about Rukmini Maitra, who ceases to look believable from the moment she learns that her ailing father has been held at gunpoint in her home. The lowest point of her performance comes at the climax though, when she turns the train compartment into a theatre stage, and dives headlong into some serious overacting. That she is not totally lost in the film is because of a strong script and a director who knows which string to pull, and when.

The film boasts of some beautiful camera work and some clever little ideas. Notice how a suicide bomber’s face lights up in the sunlight reflected from the shiny surface of a tiffin box carrying an IED, moments before he sets out to blow himself up in the name of jihad. Or how a thunderstorm briefly lights up a bridge and the train passing on top of it in the middle of the night. What is most remarkable about these scenes is that they are not in-your-face. They have been deliberately and carefully distributed throughout the film, with minimum fuss, for the discerning viewer to catch them and relish them. That’s what makes them immensely enjoyable.

The mood of the film receives commendable support from the background score by Indraadip Dasgupta that sounds decidedly ominous and keeps us invested. The post-interval qawwali ‘Tere Dargah Pe’ is, by far, the best thing in the entire film, but keeping itself true to the contradictory nature of the entire project, the makers then go on to force-fit what can best be described as an absolutely unnecessary, outrageous and rather silly end-credits song. Somehow, one can see the hands of the producers in the making and placement of that garish song, instead of the director’s, who shines in an otherwise satisfying film – by and large. Well, could it be?

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