Vishal Bharadwaj turns from the Bard to an uber cool tale of drugs, violence, and mistaken identities, that in the end also tackles redemption through the merging of Yin and Yang personalities into one whole. The identical twins Charlie (the lisp) and Guddu (the stutter) are as dissimilar as chalk and cheese and have not seen each other for years. Yet they also have a common quality – thus Charlie has a focus in life and is racing towards it ahead of a pack of horses, and with blinkers on, while Guddu has his life chalked out as a straight line with landmark events noted on it – Shaadi in 2014! Charlie fixes horse races, while Guddu does AIDS benefit street dances. And their stories do not intersect until Charlie stumbles upon a guitar that is a vehicle for much more than music, is being transported by some corrupt narcs, and he decides to take that detour that will get him to his life goal via a forter fortcut! At the same time Guddu is marrying Sweety, the sister of AAMCHI Mumbai politician Bhau Bhope, the catch being that Guddu is a Sharma from Barabanki and could spell doom to Bhau’s political agenda and career. The narcs and Bhope are bound to each find the wrong man – it is a story about dopplegangers after all. The rest is filled with chaos, violence, much stuttering, and lisping, and the confrontation between Ram aur Shyam.
Vishal Bharadwaj took the story idea from a Kampala man Cajetan Boy, and spun it into a high octane screenplay that grabs you by the throat and does not let go until the final moments of mayhem segue into some serenity. The feel is very Tarantino-esque, but the identical twins twist is very Indian. The drugs in a guitar and heist theme is very Western, but there is an almost Deewar like (replace Maa with Paa) brother-against-brother true blue Indian backdrop. This is a clear attempt to Indianize a crime noir. It is filled with clever writing that never forces the humor but yet retains a humorous streak throughout – be it Guddu told by the narcs to sing out his story as his stuttering is taking too long, or rejoinder by Tashi to Bhope that he too has Topey (as he shows off his gun)! There are quirky characters galore, the elder Bengali brother who is not offended at being called senile by his sibling, Tashi with the gold tooth who calls his African friends “blackies” (no political correctness here!), Sweety who pretends to have a stutter so she can break through the emotional barriers the stuttering Guddu has erected, Bhope – the glorious Bhope! There is violence and gore but there are also many contemplative and enigmatic moments tucked in amongst all that. Charlie always sees himself with blinkers racing towards his goal, and that is why he makes unethical choices; Guddu sees the father lying dead with the shroud off his face when he is faced with any traumatic situation; there are two large uncut diamonds that are at the heart of the deal going down – just like Guddu and Charlie who are both diamonds in the rough!
Shahid Kapoor has certainly come into his own as an actor, or Vishal Bharadwaj is one HECK of a director! I felt that Langda Tyagi was a towering presence that tilted Omkara on an uneven keel, but Guddu and Charlie create a balanced and delicious whole. Finally Shahid is able to shed all his chocolate sweetness and become a real man. As soon as Charlie and Guddu stop the somewhat girly giggles – and this is very early on – the characters just take on a life of their own. While Charlie lifps effortlessly, Guddu’s stutters are painfully believable. And yet these speech impediments do not detract from the characters, nor are they used to generate sympathy for them. Rather, they earn both enough ridicule to make the single-mindedness of each brother even more believable.
Priyanka Chopra sheds all her Westernized style as Sweety Bhope. She is earthy, vivacious, Marathi, sexy, and a typical desi girl. When pushed she wields a flaming torch and a gun with equal determination. This is undoubtedly her best performance to date!
Amole Gupte plays Bhau Bhope with style and intensity. He is funny and insane at the same time. When asked by Guddu what will happen to his political career if Guddu is allowed to stay with Sweety, he replies “I will join the other party, the one that supports your type!” It is hard to believe that the man is actually role playing in the film.
And the ensemble cast is all equally good. This has to be a triumph for the director when no actor plays a false note. All of this makes Kaminey a film that is a breathless and exhilarating ride for 2+ hours.
The music is always big in every Bharadwaj film. And there is no exception in Kaminey. The theme music that plays as Charlie races away from his pursuers every time, Dhan te Nan, Raat ke Dhai Baje, Fatak, all are situationally apt. Fatak introduces us to Guddu, the do-gooder AIDS NGO worker, in a way similar to the introduction of the good-hearted Vijay in Don. The gritty locales, near slums, local trains, narrow alleys in Bhope’s neighborhood come alive in an almost documentary level reality with the hand-held camera. This makes Dhan Te Nan a bit vertiginous and chaotic but who can mind when the European scantily clad women are completely missing from the song!
So was this a perfect film? I’d say that it fell short of what Omkara achieved. Mainly this was because the film was very “Westernized” in concept and content, even with the effort to give it an Indian soul. The Bard’s plays either entertained or had a serious morality tale at the heart, but Kaminey somehow failed to engage the mind at the emotional level. What the Kareena Ajay track was able to do in Omkara could not be achieved by Priyanka and Shahid. My father’s comment was apt – did not give me a moment to think inside but does not require me to think about it at all outside!!!!
In retrospect I preferred the Bard!