Kaminey is dead, but long live Vishal Bharadwaj

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes from Bangalore: Sparks of cinematic brilliance crackle in isolated bursts all through Vishal Bharadwaj’s  densely textured film Kaminey. Unfortunately, a rather dysfunctional script makes it stutter and stammer, much like its protagonist Guddu, and is ultimately unable to convey anything coherent to a bewildered audience.

The entire string of good and bad people in the film are after a guitar case, which carries a Rs 10 crore haul of cocaine. This includes two estranged brothers, Charlie and Guddu, superbly enacted by Shahid Kapoor.

Emotionally devastated by their father’s suicide as kids, the brothers embrace different paths. While the unscrupulous Charlie pulls his stunts in the race course, Guddu, who works for an NGO, fantasizes a corporate life, even as he constantly rummages his hovel in search of a condom to make love to his  randy girlfriend Sweety Bhope, played to perfection by Priyanka Chopra.

Guddu’s ambitions come to a grinding halt, when he realizes that a pregnant Sweety is the sister of a fanatical thug, who loathes the non-Maratha interlopers who have come into Bombay and appropriated what rightfully belongs to locals like him. That Guddu originally hails from Uttar Pradesh doesn’t help him either. Bhope’s sole aim is to get this upstart out of his sister’s life.

Charlie’s villainous propensities lead him to a hotel room where he subjects a double-crossing jockey to third degree methods to retrieve the lakh that he has lost in a bet.

A chain of events in the hotel room lead to Charlie escaping with the cocaine stash in the guitar box. From somewhere here,  Bhardwaj loses his grip, and like a severed plastic-kite buffeted by unruly winds, the film goes awry, until the gun-fire smothered climax decisively tears it asunder .

Like the famed Langdaa Tyaagi in Omkaara, Bhardwaj crafts his characters masterfully, endowing commonplace quirks and attributes that make them stand out in the unimpressive pantheon of Bollywood caricatures. But the rich characterization alone fails to hold sway and save the disastrous film.

Reinforcing Bharadwaj’s creative sensibilities is the film’s musical score. Exceptional and completely unusual, it pounds into you, drawing you into the vortex of a searing, pulsating rhythm. Gulzar’s colloquial lyrics add to the magic.

However, Bhardwaj cannot  be brushed away as a “faltering filmmaker” or “as the most overrated director of the nineties”. His stylistic embellishments and ability to inject novelty and anticipation into the most  humdrum of scenes is a talent that is rare: almost reminiscent in grandeur of the legendary Gabbar scene in Sholay. There is evidence of this in certain sequences in Kaminey.

Bhardwaj, like Anurag Kashyap, belongs to that radical new crop of filmmakers who specialize in what I would call the ‘shock & awe’  genre.  The audience is instinctively repulsed by the many stark facets of this brand of intelligent, layered film-making , but eventually relates to it. The trappings of commercial cinema actually making them more palatable than the contrived arty-types.

Probably, there is an element of self-obsession in these films, but which piece of creative work isn’t? Distinctiveness is the hallmark of all great works.  But Kaminey by no means is a great work. Moreover, the non-linear, kaleidoscopic narrative, at times swathed in dull, fading monochrome, makes Kaminey a difficult film to watch.

Kaminey falls flat on its face but Vishal Bharadwaj needn’t worry: his credentials are intact.

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