The ethos of the Mumbai underground is like compost – full of discarded peels and cracked eggshells, ripe-smelling and treacherous underfoot – but rich fodder for the imagination of talented directors. Vishal Bharadwaj is one such wunderkind, and he uses the steaming, stinking pile to fashion yet another cinematic gem.
Kaminey is the story of twin brothers Charlie and Guddu; the former lisps and the latter stammers. Charlie is a small time hoodlum who dreams of one big score which will fund his ambition to become a bookie in the crooked Mumbai race business. Guddu is a hapless NGO worker who gets involved with the sister of a thug-turned-politician. The two brothers loath each other and the busy metropolis gives them the space to avoid any interaction. One day however, Charlie’s greed sets up a train of events that lead to the intersection of their lives in a brutal and bloody finale.
Shot in large part with a hand-held camera in an in-your-face style, Kaminey is a frenetic, raw, and edgy piece of work. It’s not just Charlie’s dreams that are Dali-esque; the cocaine-hazed shootout at the end is equally surreal, as various characters blunder around madly discharging their weapons, not entirely sure whether they are hitting friend or foe.
Kaminey does not insult the viewer’s intelligence for one minute. Towards the beginning of the movie there is a scene in a hotel where multiple territorial interests collide, but the director does not lay out the characters neatly, preferring to let the audience figure it out as the movie evolves. The characters speak a melange of languages, from Marathi to Bengali to some kind of French-Angolan patois and I wonder how the audience in India would follow along without subtitles. This is a movie where you have to pay close attention to figure out all the wheels and angles, and you are richly rewarded for your interest.
The ensemble cast is terrific, as usual, and you figure out how many talented actors there are in Bollywood who never see the light of day except in these occasional gangster movies. Shahid Kapur does a great job as the twins and it is easy to believe that these are two completely different people. His efforts to create a ripped body (there is another surreal scene where the muscles are on display as Shahid races alongside horses) have made his face a little haggard, which feels completely appropriate for the movie.
Priyanka Chopra is a revelation as the fiercely protective Sweety, who will fight like a tigress to preserve her relationship with Guddu. Special mention must be made of Amole Gupte as her dada Bhope Bhau.
Vishal Bharadwaj writes the screenplay and scores the music as he usually does for his movies and it is unobtrusive, melodious and appropriate (the lyrics are opaque, which is a good bet that they are by Gulzar!). The background score is excellent too, as it builds up to a crescendo in key scenes (one, involving a game like Russian roulette is predicted by the music but still painful to watch).
Kaminey’s black comedy had me nervously chuckling throughout the movie, even as I stayed glued to the seat. It is not for viewers who want a feel-good Bollywood masala experience, but fans of Omkara will be delighted.
Kid advisory – Not suitable for kids under 13.
Directed by Vishal Bharadwaj
*ring Shahid Kapur, Priyanka Chopra
My rating : 4 out of 5 stars.