Kaminey: A Review

Kaminey – Dir: Vishal Bhardwaj; *ing: Shahid Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra

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There is an appropriate correlation between director/music composer Vishal Bhardwaj’s films and their musical soundtracks: Maqbool – quietly, intensely, ominous; Omkara – earthy, with lurking undertones of the evil that men do. And now the quirkily titled Kaminey, whose infectious clarion call of ‘Dhan Ta Nan’ marks an altogether more brash and untethered tonal quality, with the violence that was more implied than vehemently stated in the earlier films now replaced by an edgier, grittier, flashier visceral sensibility that doesn’t flinch from the required rough ‘n tumble of its underworld setting.

That setting, of ‘navi’ Mumbai’s gangland arena, is hardly pristine ground, having been trampled many times over by the likes of Ram Gopal Verma and co. But Bhardwaj brings his own unique Bhardwaj flavour to it. As it is, the somewhat convoluted plot concerning a guitar case full of cocaine is hardly the point here. Kaminey is really the tale of two wildly differing paths – those taken by twin brothers Charlie and Guddu (Kapoor), the former a small-time gangster who dreams of becoming a bookie, and the latter an introverted, morally upstanding worker in an AIDS awareness NGO, who also romances Sweety (Chopra). However, contrary to Hindi movie conventions, the twin brothers scenario is neither the basis for any low-brow comedy, nor for sickeningly saccharine filmi lessons in brotherly love – Charlie and Guddu (both names also aptly denote each one’s life choices) can’t stand the sight of each other. Also, while one lisps, the other stutters, something that could easily have fallen into the unfortunate category of cheap gimmick, but actually turns out to be a singularly inspired device that serves to not only de-mystify the hitherto glamorized gangster and sanctified do-gooder stereotypes, but at the same time marks them as one-time social outcasts who manage to make their own unique places in their respective worlds.

Some might gripe that Kaminey suffers in comparison with Maqbool and Omkara, and they may be right to a degree. Certainly, script-wise those works were stronger and more nuanced, and many will prefer their more languid, classical pacing (they were, after all, Shakespearean adaptations while Kaminey isn’t) as opposed the more frenetic, kinetic one at play here. But that in no way makes Kaminey any less of a cinematic achievement, because with only his sixth film Bhardwaj has established his remarkable directorial style and vision. His command over and use of the filmic idiom is unparalleled in contemporary Hindi cinema – whether in terms of the cinematography, the masterful editing, the ingenious use of colour, or indeed in getting strong performances from his cast. He made a star out of Irrfan Khan in Maqbool, extracted a powerful actor out of Saif Ali Khan in Omkara, and here he makes a force of nature out of baby-faced Kapoor, so far best known for his cocoa-flavoured parts in rom-coms. Bhardwaj revels in dirtying up that cuddly image and Kapoor seems only too happy to comply. While he clearly has fun playing Charlie, bringing a haunted quality to the more showy of the two parts, his Guddu is the more quietly revelatory creation – not a stuttering cookie-cutter saint but a complex, flawed individual.

While comparisons with Hollywood gangster films are inevitable, with Kaminey, Bhardwaj has pretty much created a sub-genre unto itself, one whose look, milieu and hallmarks are solidly and proudly ‘Bollywood’.

Dhan Ta Nan indeed!

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