I’ll admit it. I did have high expectations going in to see Kaminey. And despite getting yet another dose of Mumbai gangsterism, my expectations for the next Vishal Bhardwaj movie remain high.
The Bombay mafia has been depicted in Bollywood as early as Awaara (“it was called Bombay then” just as Guddu articulates on our desperate behalf), and there’s been a steady dose since. The frequency ratcheted up after Nayagan came out in the 80s. Since then we’ve gotten Zanjeer, Don, Deewaar, Parinda, Satya, Company, Sarkaar, Munnabhai, Godmother, Waisa Bhi Hota Hai, Vaastav, and perhaps many more that I’ve never heard of. Do we really need another Mumbai gangster movie?
Obviously, Vishal Bhardwaj and his brothers in arms believe so. As a result, we’re treated to Mumbai slang, incessant rounds of firing, shootouts, crass dialogue, guts and glory, greed, family values among thieves – the usual smorgasbord that makes up this weary genre. But since this is Vishal, we get a movie that’s pretty damn good, with moments of brilliance, some great music and background scoring, and a couple of clever send-ups.
We could start with the satirical insertion of the twins genre twinned with the gangster genre. But it’s not brothers separated at birth. It’s brothers that have drifted apart because they are different. Each of them has frailties, physical and mental, that make them hero and anti-hero at the same time. Thus, the layers begin, and we get a movie enriched in its underpinnings.
There are send ups of Maharashtrian zealots, politicians, rogue police officers – all the usual suspects we have seen before. But the quality of the acting, the development of the characters, and the tightness in script differentiates this movie from its many predecessors. Amole Gupte is excellent as Bhau, Priyanka Chopra is almost unrecognizable when she actually acts, Shahid does a reasonably good job, and all of the supporting cast are very good.
What stands out is the attention to detail. All speech defects and accents are maintained, the story retains continuity even as it hops back and forth. Perhaps the only tenuous moment was when Bhau speaks English with an impeccable accent. Yet, In today’s India, that may be a possibility.
There are some brilliant scenes. The interrogation of Guddu is one of my favourites. To explain what happens would give away the scene, but it is extremely funny, sad and scary at the same time. The shoot outs are superbly executed. And the first song during the titles is Vishal Bhardwaj doing what he does best, composing and arranging music. It is an excellent rendition of a folksy tune with a superlative musical arrangement. As Sukhwinder sings the song with gusto, one feels that it resumes from where the title song of Omkaara left off.
There are hints of Reservoir Dogs, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Layer Cake, and a general whiff of Quentin Tarantino’s “influence” in many scenes. No copying however, or sincere flattery, just influence.
There are a couple of scenes though that really feel like run of the mill. It was Dil Chahta Hai Redux or Yuva II (the Fanaa song) during the nightclub song scene. Nightclub song sequences seem to have become a template, like the hero and heroine running towards each other in slow motion with a Kenyan runner’s stamina on open hillsides. The shoot out, although well done, is also a template. The ending is a bit of a cop out, but you have to wait to the end to see it. And while you’re waiting, it’s a rock and roll’r.
However, one hopes that this is the last Mumbai gangster film that Vishal Bhardwaj makes. It’s a waste of his calibre to add yet another nine pin in the bowling alley of gangster movies. It would have been interesting if he had made the Hyderabad or Bangalore underworld his subject rather than Mumbai. Whatever happened to his idea of creating a legacy of children’s movies? He’s only made two so far, Makdee and The Blue Umbrella. He could even take some other relevant topical story, whether it be the ineffective judicial system or the many million stories of success against the odds, and make a smashing film out of it. He is one of the few movie makers who can pull it off, and the movie industry would be all the better for it.