No police. I’m gonna deal with them myself," says Vivek Oberoi’s Ayaaz, I suspect, to his audience’s gentle snigger. This gent, who can slip in and out of an American accent at free will, is a TV reporter. And evidently, part-Rambo in his head as well. He gets a fine lead into a major case: massive mid-air bombing of a UN plane, which had carried with it his girlfriend (Diya Mirza). The huge American security establishment could benefit from this inside info, unearth a crucial terror network.
Ayaaz, for some reason, doesn’t trust the FBI. He’s no one’s moll (unlike Neil Nitin Mukesh’s character in a similar but much superior film New York, earlier this year). He launches himself instead into a secret, self-funded, one-man mission; plants himself within a sleeper terror cell; becomes one of them; almost kills another man to preserve his identity. This movie is actually not so much about this lunatic move.
It could then be about a well-educated professor of Psychology (Kareena Kapoor) at a New York university, who’s just moved back from India. She’s married to one (Saif Ali Khan, mid-age showing) who turns out to be a terrorist himself. The two had met as colleagues at an Indian college. He had wooed her for her US passport alone: a rather poor one of the many possible plans to sneak into America. The girl’s father had disapproved of their inter-faith marriage initially.
This father has a terrorist for house-guest. The daughter’s an upwardly mobile woman of the world. A few text messages to the right sources, contact with friends and acquaintances, or calls to colleagues at work, could help ease her problem. She largely remains locked up mute; prefers the occasional well-executed snog with a husband she never had.
The script, with hardly a seamless quality, seems pretty much, what they call ‘man ghadant’ (a perennially reworked spinning a yarn of sorts). The lead couple lives in a Muslim neighbourhood in suburban New York. Each of the neighbours in this ‘Arlington Road’ — Afghans (Kirron Kher), Pakistanis (the gray-hero Saif) — has a bone or the other to pick with Americans. There is some honesty in the picture’s wordy purpose: to put into some perspective the junoon (passion) for jihad.
But it’s merely the speeches that are political; their pains are personal, not a work of indoctrination. Their grand plans don’t seem associated with any larger global outfit either. They appear at best a rag-tag cottage firm out to bomb and bleed America to death.
There’s a reason America hasn’t witnessed even a half-scale attack within its shores since September 11, 2001: the date being an anomaly to world history. That’s because it’s all never as simple as this film makes it seem: Saif’s Riyaz escaping crackling street shootouts with FBI; relentless crossfires inside trains; bombs being disposed off at various corners of New York City; hardcore exchange of fire at tube stations…
This, when for the most part the film retains its quiet, somber tone; each frame sensitively lit and tightly photographed to a near calm, visual perfection. What you may brave through then is a flick neither real or serious enough to be a meditation on global terror, nor sweetly suspended and adequately brain-dead to be Die Hard. It’s hard to be both. The hardship shows.