So over the last three weeks i have been watching ‘kaafila‘ which bills itself as a movie based on the ‘global issue of illegal migration’. It took me 3 weeks to watch because (a) it is a Bollywood movie (and thus runs for three plus hours) and (b) because it is so incredibly bad that i could not muster the courage to watch bits that were longer than 15 minutes. Matter of fact it is so bad that that the songs (those ridiculous dancing/singing scenes that are required to interrupt Bollywood productions every so often) were more bearable than the ‘story’ itself.
So why did i buy it in the first place then? Kaafila contains a scene that depicts what has become to be known as the ‘Malta boat tragedy‘: the sinking – off the coast of the Sicilian town of Portapalo on December 26th 1996 – of a ship carrying more than 300 south-east asian migrants bound for Italy. More than 280 migrants lost their lives in this disaster (the worst post WWII maritime accident in the Mediterranean) and i was curious how this would be portrayed in a feature film made in one of the countries where a large part of the victims was hailing from. Plus some of the reviews actually did sound quite intriguing:
… in their effort to forge ahead closer to their dream, the innocent dozen finds itself trapped sometimes by the Russian mafia involved in the plutonium smuggling racket and sometimes by the militancy on the Afghan borders. Here they meet an Afghani girl…
Now as i said the movie is exceptionally bad. The story is erratic at best, the characters depicted are extremely unrealistic (although the opening credits of the film actually try to make a somewhat realistic introduction into the migrants’ motives for seeking their luck elsewhere) and, on top of this, the trajectory of the journey defies any logic at all:
From India our group of migrants is first flown to Moscow where they are held captive by a Pakistani trafficker for 5 months. He finally takes them across the border to Ukraine (shooting one of them on the way) but decides to take them back to Russia after one of them lights a fire at night, which, according to the trafficker, will alert the border guards and guarantee the group’s arrest.
On the way back another of the migrants freezes to death under fake styrofoam snow while hiding from a helicopter. Back in Russia the group heads towards the Black sea coast where they board a ship that is supposed to take them to Malta. In real life this would mean crossing the Black sea, sailing through the Bosporus, crossing the Aegean sea, sailing around Apulia to continue to Malta (or to be more exact Sicily where the real ‘Malta boat tragedy’ took place). In Kaalifa our heroes board the boat and immediately burst into another dancing scene to the films theme song ‘Chala Kaafila’, a strange mix between eurotrash and hindi film music:
Chala Kaafila is a outcome of a confused state of mind. With music lingering somewhere between the genres of folk and club mix, Chala Kaafila boasts of a strong blend of North Indian music with unnecessary westernized musical goof ups. [from: RS Bollywood Online music reviews]
The song opens with the singer (the only female on board who somehow disappears before the ship goes down) shouting ‘i don’t want to wait no more let’s bring the house down’ over extremely annoying house beats. this is followed by mad dancing of the assembled 300 migrants on the deck of the doomed ship and once the song ends the ship’s passengers become aware of a giant wave (clearly inspired by the 2004 asian tsunami, which coincidentally also happened on a 26th of December) slowly approaching and jump ship in fear.
For some reason (supposedly because they cling to pieces of wood taken from the ship before jumping into the sea) our 10 remaining heroes are the only ones to survive and wash up on a beach (which turns out to be the Russian Black sea coast again). here our heroes meet the wife of an mad Indian nuclear engineer who is selling liquid plutonium to the Taliban (with the help of the Russian mafia). For rather unclear reasons the wife is shot dead by the Mafia and in this moment, out of nowhere, the above-mentioned Afghani girl appears, secures the liquid plutonium, a bag of giant diamonds and offers our heros a lift to Kazaksthan.
From here on the ‘innocent dozen’ comes under the protection of a dubious Pakistani I.S.I agent who teams up with the Afghani girl to fend off waves of waves of Russian mafia killers and Taliban fighters attempting to kill our heros while they cross Tadzhikistan and Afghanistan heading towards Pakistan (along the way various attempts to put them on a plane to Europe fail). En route 4 more of them are being killed despite the incredible marksmanship of the Pakistani agent and the Afghani girl, who kill dozens after dozens of the attackers.
Finally, in Pakistan the I.S.I agent somehow reconciles with his superiors (in one scene he seems to be talking to Pervez Musharraf himself) who had been pissed off with him for another unclear reason (there are hints that he was suspected to be involved in some Abdul Qadeer Khan style nuclear smuggling operation) and arranges for our heroes’ safe passage across the border to India. in the final scene the 6 remaining migrants plus the Afghani girl can be seen walking to back towards an imagined India, now being completely cured of their initial desire to leave mother India and find their luck in England…
Even if i was willing to accept that Malta is an island located in the Black sea, that the Taliban ‘look like Indians wearing fake beards‘ who can’t shoot straight and that liquid plutonium can be handled safely in open containers, this still is the worst movie i have ever seen (with the mask being a close second). Here are some screen shots of the malta boat tragedy dance: