Vantage point

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review of Kaminey

Entertaining action-packed thrillers in India started being made with regularity in the 1960s - Teesri Manzil, Johnny Mera Naam. The genre evolved considerably in the 70s, with imaginative storylines, more elaborate action sequences and entertaining dialogues that often injected comedy into the proceedings too - Amar Akbar Anthony, Don, and of course, Sholay.

Then, the genre mysteriously stopped evolving. Younger film-makers were basically using the same old formula and not thinking outside the box at all. They were still trying to recreate the magic of the 70s, instead of planting their flags on any new hills. A few exceptions were there for sure - Mr. India, Hera Pheri, Aankhein and so on. But even they were at best marginal improvements. And there were some horrifying pretenses like Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om.

For the most part, the entertaining thriller genre in Bollywood has been in a state of stasis. Those sort of films became stupider with each passing year. And that's why a new wobbly mantra came to be adopted for such films - "dimaag ghar pe chhoD ke dekhne ka", leave your brains at home and enjoy. The corollary is, entertaining thrillers by definition are stupid, full of errors and holes, and to enjoy them, you must stop thinking. Case in point - Om Shanti Om. Or the fact that Sanjay Gupta has a career in films.

Kaminey is the exact opposite. While watching it, you can not afford to leave your brain anywhere. Heck, you can not even let your mind wander for more than a couple of seconds. Because the film is so packed with story, that it demands your rapt attention. It moves at a furious pace. The tempo does not slacken even when there's a song on.

Vishal Bhardwaj has taken a fistful of cliches from the Bollywood thriller genre - twins...orphaned twins, big bad brother as an obstacle for the couple in love, elopement, stylish drug czars living lavishly on yachts, corrupt cops, get-rich-quick schemes, gambling, chases and chaotic shoot-outs to name a few - and created a movie that looks and feels completely and refreshingly different.

Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra should be singing "Pehli baar acting ki hai", because this is the first time that I have not wanted to strangle them. It must be said though that their performances are good... but that's it. Neither of them has really achieved a Langda-Tyagi-esque feat. The media hype about how brilliant Shahid is and how Priyanka Chopra is, in the words of Joey Tribbiani, the best actress since sliced bread, is not unlike the hysteria about H1N1 being the next black death. To Shahid and Priyanka, I say, in the words of Jacopo Peterman, congratulations on a job....done!

The real stellar performances are from the ensemble cast, and one wishes they all had more screen time. Amol Gupte as Bhope Bhau is deliciously manic or bipolar or whatever the term is. Chandan Roy Sanyal as Mikhail is endearing in a Circuit-meets-Bhiku-Mhatre kinda way. Tenzing Nima as Tashi is in turns menacing and witty. But my personal favorite in the whole cast was Shiv Subrahmanyam's tense turn as Lobo. I had a long ctrl-f period of several hours as I tried to figure out who he looks like an older version of. Almost 24 hours after the movie, driving on the freeway it struck me - Khandagale from Prahaar! Got home and checked on imdb and sure enough, same guy. Why has he been in so few movies???

I could go on and on about this movie. But I'll make a couple of points and stop. Firstly, the gratuitous injections of in-jokes, ironies and hat-tips, so rare in Bollywood, is refreshing. Although I caught several, I am sure repeat viewings will unearth a lot more. Be it naming one of the Nigerians as Cajetan (the movie starts off with a message - based on a story idea by Cajetan Boy), or the naughty graffiti on the bathroom door, or....oh, I won't spoil them for you. The pleasure of spotting one is like that after finding an easter egg.

Secondly, the Marathi dialogs, which are aplenty, are perfectly written and perfectly delivered. Too often, Marathi is used in films and media in a way that sounds like they used google-translate.... you know, like newspapers using "Amchi Pune" instead of "Amche Pune", or Baburao Apte in Hera Pheri saying "marathi maansa jaaga ho", with the wrong "n" and "j" sounds. Not here. The lines are written very accurately, and Priyanka Chopra's diction is so perfect (except for a couple of minor slip-ups), I wonder if she lived for an extended period of time in Maharashtra (not Bombay, actual Maharashtra) while growing up. Yash Chopra and his ilk have made the gratuitous over-use of Punjabi in Hindi films so annoying, that another Chopra speaking "aamchi bhaasha" so well seems like justice+reparations.

Oh, and the best part about watching the movie in the US? No interval! Which was great. This movie, with its unrelenting tempo, needs an interval like Usain Bolt needs a breather at the 50 meter mark.
Mini-update: George tells me they have intervals for Hindi movies in Atlanta, and did for Kaminey too. Hmm... maybe just a New York thing then. It is a "dhan te nan" city after all. :)

Finally, a few friends asked me how the movie compares with Maqbool and Omkara. Well, it can't be. Maqbool and Omkara were like the best and second-best biryanis of all time. Kaminey is the best vadapav of all time. The most perfectly made vadapav, with the right amount of juice, crispiness, spice and bite. Any idiot can mash boiled potatoes, chuck in spices, fry them in batter and so on like Sanjay Gupta, Farah Khan and Ab-bas Mat-taan do. It takes a Vishal Bhardwaj to come along and show us what a vadapav can REALLY taste like.

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