Eleven characters. A volley of bullets whizz by. Corpses pile up. A dead body disappears. A drug deal goes awry. Blink and you might miss all of it. Kaminey is a film that requires a heavy dose of caffeine and your utmost attention. It also is the hit of the year.
Forget the Kambakkht Ishqs and Saif double-acts of the summer: Kaminey is undoubtedly the best Indian film to have been released this year; and one doubts any film can top that. After all, this is the only film I have seen where the audience at Karachi’s Nishat cinema sat absolutely riveted through all two and a half hours of the film and burst into spontaneous applause as the end credits ran. How many times – outside of a film festival/premiere setting – has that happened?
Kaminey is being quoted as the film that has turned Shahid Kapur from a star into an actor. One has to disagree – because Kapur already proved his talent as an actor in Jab We Met. But what Kaminey has done for Kapur is that it has proved that he may truly become one of the best Bollywood actors of the next generation, provided he still continues to strike a balance between films like Kaminey and the (seemingly mindless) Dil Bole Hadippa types.
Vishal Bhardwaj – the man behind Kaminey from the music to the dialogues to the direction – has proven himself to be one of India’s best filmmakers in recent years. From Maqbool to Omkara, Bhardwaj has made films that leave you unsettled and constantly looking out for the characters that lurk in the dead of the night.
Kaminey is all about those characters, each incredibly twisted and utterly kamina. This is a film that requires alert senses and caffeine aids, because if you miss one scene – even one glance – you may lose track of the film altogether. Bhardwaj takes the first half of Kaminey to weave an incredibly convoluted plot: that features a pair of twin brothers – the stammering Guddu and the lisping Charlie and draws every possible contrast between their lives. Charlie is yet another of the small time gangsters who proliferate in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai and is as thick as thieves with three Bengali brothers, of which one – Mikhail – he considers his true brother.
On the other hand, Guddu is a meek NGO worker who has his entire life plan charted out on his wardrobe door, but it’s torn to shreds when his girlfriend, Sweety (Priyanka Chopra) drops a bombshell on him. The other characters – including the highly entertaining, ‘Jai Maharashtra’ yelling opportunist Bhope (Amol Gupte) – all are caught in the middle of a huge drug deal that sees three different groups caught in crossfire and amid corpses and gunfire, the brothers finally come to a crossroad: they’re confused for each other.
Kaminey is really about the dark side of every cast member, even Sweety, who at one point attempts to machine-gun her brother and his followers down. Set to the searing, burning soundtrack of ‘Dhan Te Nan’ and with shades of Guy Ritchie’s brand of filmmaking – Kaminey is a twisted, macabre film that will leave you edgy, unsettled yet its addictive, in a guilty pleasure way.
The cinematography and editing is beyond excellent: there are scenes that will leave you wondering not just how this was executed on a technical level, but what kind of twisted frame of mind the actors had to have to perform so brilliantly. Even the daytime and monsoon rain are made to seem as accompaniments to the dark nature of Kaminey, and the flashbacks to Charlie and Guddu’s childhood and scenes depicting Charlie’s future are peppered with a sense of gloomy foreboding. There are so many allegories in the film that it reminds one of the Shakespearian throwbacks that Bhardwaj made his name on: the rail tracks that signify their lives, the twins, the almost Hamlet-like paranoia and madness that the characters find themselves in.
So how Charlie and Guddu extricate themselves of the hell of their own making and their further foray into the depths of hell that they have been thrust into by the feuding groups is what occupies the second half of the film. The sardonic humour and matter-of-fact violence combined with the truly engaging characters – from the cocaine sniffing barons to the corrupt police officer to the ‘sar phira’ Mikhail and the opportunist Bhope – makes Kaminey a complete winner. The eleven characters in Kaminey weave plots of their own and as they criss-cross and interact with each other you’re left jumping from one situation to another, from one underhanded deal to another. Bhardwaj explores the urban setting of Kaminey – from the club that Mikhail and Charlie euphorically dance to ‘Dhan Te Nan’, to the beaches of Goa, to the crowded neighbourhood where Bhope wields his political fist, his pro-Maharashtra stance resembling that of the Shiv Sena, to the streets where Guddu sings his AIDS awareness song ‘Fatak’. The themes are all those that will strike a chord with a Pakistani audience – the question really is, when do we make a film about this side of our cities?
But those are matters for another day: it is time to herald Shahid Kapur. Kaminey is undoubtedly Shahid Kapur’s film, through and through. His double roles as Charlie and Guddu are so completely different that it’s hard to reconcile that the same actor is essaying them. Bhardwaj has always brought out the best in his actors (Irrfan Khan in Maqbool and Saif Ali Khan in Omkara are two great examples), but with Kaminey, Bhardwaj has taken Shahid Kapur’s career to another level while making us fall in love with his brand of filmmaking all over again. Worth every bit of the applause that the cinema hall in Karachi gave to him, and more. Kaminey is the film to watch this year – Saba Imtiaz (Rating – 4.5 OUT OF 5)
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 2009, Genre – Thriller, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer – Ronnie Screwvala, Director –Vishal Bharadwaj, Music Director – Vishal Bharadwaj, Cast – Shahid Kapur, Priyanka Chopra, Amol Gupte