Film Review: Kaminey

Kaminey

Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj

Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Amol Gupte, and Chandan Roy Sanyal

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What is going on with film titles/songs these days?” has been a question asked by many aunties over the past few weeks. Yup, that same brigade who winced when Bhootni Ke came on in Singh is Kinng and wrinkled their noses in disgust at the Marjaani item number in Billo,  were falling off their chairs like dominoes when I said I was going to see Kaminey this weekend. Not that there is any reason for said aunties to be shocked – with a Vishal Bhardwaj film, the bad language is to be expected and if anything, adds that flavour and realism that is sorely missing from so many other films. After all, didn’t the expletives in Omkara only help to underline the tender moments in the film?

I was not too sure what to expect from Kaminey, seeing as the trailer was suitably enigmatic and the fact that I had been avoiding any potential spoilers, so it was with a  pair of relatively fresh eyes that I got to see the film. And as the trailers rolled, I felt that familiar feeling of excitement and worry – how would the film play out? Is it really the act of a sane person to be rooting for a film to do well before it’s even seeing it? One to discuss methinks!

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Kaminey is the story of two twin brothers – Guddu and Charlie (both played by Kapoor), who both have a speech impediment – Guddu has a stammer whilst Charlie pronounces his s‘s as f‘s ( so dus becomes duff). Although they are twins, in life, the two brothers are very different. Charlie is involved with a group of gangsters, known as the Bengali brothers who fix horse races. Secretly, Charlie dreams of becoming a bookie and having a beautiful woman on his arm.  Meanwhile Guddu has a life plan and is studying hard to acheive it whilst being distracted by the beautiful but very determined Sweety (Chopra) who has her own life plan  for herself and Guddu. Through extraordinary circumstances, the twins find their lives linked – much to their displeasure as they don’t like each other very much…

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Bhardwaj weaves an amazing tapestry of a film that is executed with confidence and style, not compromising on his vision for anybody, not even the audience. At first, this is risky – in the first half, much of the audience were a bit restless as the plot was quite complicated and even a minute’s distraction (for instance, glaring at the person behind you or talking to one’s companion) meant an important detail would be missed.  But in the second half, this all comes together so effortlessly that the viewer is rewarded for their concentration and the film not only rises above any of its contemporaries but zooms into a category of its own. It’s very rare to find a commercial film that not only converses with the viewer but demands the audience participate in the film by gleaning key information and using it. The result is a story that engrosses one and demands repeat viewings as there are so many layers in the film.

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Technically, the film is superb too. No glossy and colourful sweeping landscape shots of Mumbai here – instead we are treated to an ominous grey atmosphere, with earthy textures and a natural look rather than a filmi feel. Note the camera angles too – close up in the faces of the characters with no set pieces to hide behind, viewpoints that don’t stay still and follow the characters with alarming suppleness. Also, credit must be given to the dialogue which is witty and relevant and immediately memorable.  Bhardwaj also uses different languages which make the subtitles crucial (and this was also the case with Omkara) although the subtitler for the UK  must have been watching a different film, with the translations differing wildly from the on screen action which was not helpful (but did provide unexpected laughs).  Also worth noting is the way Bhardwaj creates  an almost timeless world – yes there is technology used in the film in form of mobiles and the internet but at times, the film feels very rustic, almost as if modernity counts for nothing.

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Performance wise, Shahid Kapoor does a stellar job as both Guddu and Charlie. Although Shahid has played a character with shades of Guddu before, he reinvents Kaminey‘s Guddu into someone very unsure of himself who surprises both the audience and himself with the transformation that takes place.  He also makes Charlie, who has more than his fair share of grey shades, feel vulnerable and likeable and shows the human side beneath the tough veneer. Shahid also makes the speech impediments the characters have entirely natural and unforced which many an actor would not have been able to do. Shahid is  a serious contender for the Best Actor of 2009 and it will take a hell of lot to beat him when awards are given out.

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Priyanka Chopra continues her winning streak after Fashion and Dostana with another good performance but the difference here is that this is new territory for Chopra and she does incredibly well, making Sweety an unhinged but sweet character who we not only understand but root for. To be able to match up to Shahid is no easy task for anyone and Chopra not only meets the challenge but even equals Shahid at times. As I’ve always felt, if Priyanka continues to challenge herself, that currently unfilled Heroine Number One slot may be hers. Amol Gupte is mesmerising as Bhope, the corrupt politician who is even prepared to marry his sister off for cash. Gupte dominates the screen every time he is on and clearly enjoys playing the character, bringing out the kaminey side of the character who cares only for power and nothing else. Chandan Roy Sanyal is also good as Charlie’s friend, with a wild and unrestrained performance which may seem effortless but is actually quite controlled and silently enhances his co-stars performances.

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It goes without saying that you should go and see Kaminey. This is definitely one of the most important films of the year and is the perfect answer to those who think Bollywood is just song and dance with a healthy layer of gloss. I’m not saying that we don’t love those films but for too long, we’ve had too little in the way of films like Kaminey and the success of this film will send out the clear message that sometimes the Bollywood viewer does want to take his/her brain to the cinema and engage it, and can appreciate a world class product, which is what Kaminey is. Quite frankly, once this is released on DVD, I shall be recommending it to all my friends with an interest in Bollywood and those new to the genre.

My final thought on Kaminey is how the film made me feel while I was watching it – I was totally engrossed, watching the action, referencing things, wondering what was going to happen next. The only thing that has previously made me feel that way is the TV series The Wire, which demanded complete concentration from its viewer and made the viewer work hard but also rewarded them suitably. The Wire is not perhaps to everyone’s taste but once the viewer learns how to watch the programme, they cannot get enough. Like The Wire changed the way people watch TV, Kaminey encourages us to view our films differently – could this be the start of a new wave of Hindi cinema? Let’s hope Bollywood is paying attention – any who pulls down Kaminey is a kamina themselves!

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