August Issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 11 years ago

Starring Neil Nitin Mukesh, John Abraham and Katrina Kaif — all of whom deliver remarkable performances — yes, New York is about 9/11.

The movie opens with a sting operation and Omar (Neil Nitin Mukesh) is abducted by the FBI. After probing questions into his college past, Omar realises why he was picked up: the FBI wants to use him to get information on his friend Sam (John Abraham), who allegedly runs a South Asian sleeper cell and is a suspected terrorist. Threatened with imprisonment at a prison in a jungle, Omar eventually agrees to go undercover and back into Sam’s life — to find him now married to his college crush Maya (Katrina Kaif) and the father of a son. But he only does it to prove that neither he nor Sam are terrorists.

Roshan is a Muslim FBI officer striving to make it to the top. He tells Omar that the only way to change the perception of Muslims is by cooperating with the FBI. For Sam, a victim of random terrorist abductions himself, the only way of making things work is by avenging himself. And that holds true if reviewed against the efforts of Maya, a human-rights activist who lodges and pursues cases of human-rights violations by agencies such as the FBI, but which lead to nothing conclusive.

The movie’s focus is on what happened to South Asians after 9/11, but in an emotional and psychological capacity. The bigger picture, too, is weaved in through the FBI plot. All the conflicts are addressed in the interactions between the characters. Omar continually challenges the FBI’s methods and Roshan, its advocate, who maintains that sometimes states take decisions which may be right or wrong (e.g. holding people in detention without proof), but nothing justifies terrorism. Sam’s story earns him great sympathy for his motives. Nine months in detention, stripped of his dignity and no longer able to function the way he used to, his sole motive becomes to strike back, but only at the FBI, who are responsible for his condition. But one’s heart really goes out to Maya, his former girlfriend, who took it upon herself to bring Sam’s life back to what he used to be in his college days, and then makes do as a wife who knows her husband runs a sleeper cell but lives in the hope that one day he will turn back.

New York does make some bold statements. It very clearly depicts that what the US is now doing is illegal and simply damage control, that there is no justification for detaining persons and maltreating them, something which does consequently lead many who would never have otherwise charted this path, to become terrorists, if only to avenge themselves. But the film shies away from a bold conclusion.

Despite the all-so-serious theme, not once does the movie come off as too heavy because of the occasional subtle doses of humour. The Omar-Roshan scenes are the most enjoyable and the movie is a good watch, extremely well shot, entertaining in parts and meaningful. And while it does have good music there are no choreographed dance sequences.

Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.