Ah, Bollywood. In a country where cinema and cricket are religions, it is gratifying as a film geek to stumble upon a favorite in your DVD stack and realize that its wispy too-cool-for-you freshness is still ripe for rediscovery. When Indian cinema seemed to be teetering over to a smash disaster of mindless melodrama, Vishal Bhardwaj gifted us something we could proudly call our own Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. A fully flourished non-linear narrative blessed with riveting dialogues, administered with a killer soundtrack, and driven home with impeccable direction: Kaminey made its way into the theater of cult classics. On the auspicious occasion of its fifth anniversary, I’m here to assure you that this trip into the dingy sewers of human degradation is still a fascinating insight into the filthy underbelly of Mumbai’s crime scene.
Shahid Kapoor plays twin brothers Guddu and Charlie – both characterized by two separate speech impediments; their fates crossing paths like train tracks in a 24 hour period. Guddu stutters, Charlie lisps (swapping ‘s’ for ‘f’). Guddu wants a perfect life (which means not getting shot) and Charlie wants to be a bookmaker. Plot complications thicken as Charlie spots a shipment of cocaine worth ten crores in a guitar case and the police arrest Guddu for it. The inspectors want to deliver those drugs to a gangster themselves. Meanwhile the girl Guddu marries is the sister of the psychotic gangster Bhope Bhau, who goes to Charlie’s place and asks him to dig his twin brother out. These proceedings are hurtled across with a frenetic pace unknown to Bollywood since the days of Vijay Anand (Teesri Manzil, Jewel Thief), but Bhardwaj and his co-writers took the convolutions and made a heady froth of intelligent drama out of it.
Shahid Kapoor is brilliant as both Charlie and Guddu. His body language and his reversal of tone while speaking is finely detailed and does justice to two well-conceived characters. Priyanka Chopra marks her limited presences in the film with her trademark charm and wit in spite of playing a character unlike anything she has portrayed before (or even after). In hindsight, I would say her performance in Kaminey superseded her overrated performance in Barfi by a significant margin. Amol Gupte is absolutely terrific as Bhope Bhau. He’s the Vito Corleone of Mumbai with the disquieting menace of a poisonous snake, ready to bite. His sense of humor is frightening, because he is absolutely demented and his mind is colored with prejudice. Gupte understands the character and inhabits Bhau’s skin with mollified efficiency.
We had a long discussion on Twitter yesterday discussing the best one-liners in the film and pretty much ended up reading every third line of dialogue spoken in the film. Bhardwaj makes his characters breathe fire in gangsta tongue and sends us squirming with dark humor. His signature stamp, both on the visual (thanks to DoP Tassaduq Hussain) and aural quality, is at a peak that is thrillingly alive in Kaminey. Dhan Te Nan was a huge hit back in 2009, but I think it wrongly overshadowed the rest of the soundtrack (also by Vishal Bhardwaj) which was far more superior. Gulzar saab‘s lyrics compliment Bhardwaj’s music with wholesome formlessness as illustrated perfectly by the song Fatak where Guddu goes about spreading information on AIDS and distributing condoms with a natak mandli. It is a joy felt very rarely by an Indian movie maniac: to have a modern Hindi film continue to entertain the devil out of you without insulting your intellect.
It may not be Maqbool or Omkara, but Bhardwaj’s Kaminey still packs quite a punch after five years of repeat viewings. Happy fifth anniverfary, you ftupid twinf.