Now, the greatness of “Kaminey” was not at all surprising. It came from two of the most dependable names in the Hindi film industry today: Vishal Bharadwaj and Ronnie Screwvala (of whom I have blogged previously here). Now, Vishal Bharadwaj comes with classics like Maqbool and Omkara behind him. Therefore, one cannot argue that the man knows his craft. So when he decides to make a movie named “Kaminey” the expectations are bound to be high. Ronnie Screwvala’s name is practically synonymous with the hatke mainstream cinema. While his films are commercially viable, he has the guts to make the movies unconventional at the same time. Add to that, lyrics by Gulzar, two mainstream stars (Priyanka and Shahid) and a host of character actors and you have one delectable combination that is hard to miss.
However, what is surprising is that Kaminey delivers on the expectations and how! It is one of the most engrossing fares in recent years. Now, a lot of ink, real and digital has been spilt on the plot, the performances etc. Therefore, I won’t go there. What I want to point out are only three points that I think set “Kaminey” apart from the usual fare.
First, with Kaminey, Vishal Bharadwaj steps into the territory of original story telling, an area which is particularly tricky when it comes to thrillers. Sure, he still draws inspiration in certain scenes from several sources but he definitely makes them his own. In fact, an outstanding feature of Bharadwaj’s work is that the brilliance with which he draws inspiration from both Indian and International cinema. It would be unfair to name just people like Tarantino as an influence. In Kaminey, he pays homage simultaneously to the retro era where movies like Jewel Thief, Teesri Manzil, The Great Gambler and others gave their audience an unforgettable thrill ride. This is a complete director’s movie and Vishal Bharadwaj executes it in a manner which is slick without losing its desi flavor. At the same time, he debunks the myth that commercial cinema cannot be artistic. His visuals are trippy and stylish. His execution in places is inspired and novel. The dialogues are devilish and bold. There is spontaneity to every scene which ensures the energy to be maintained throughout and doesn’t let the viewer lose interest for one second. All in all, this is a heady cocktail for any cinephile.
However, what perhaps is even more important with Kaminey is that it not only delivers a thrilling affair, but also conveys deep social and political understanding of a city which takes it to a whole new level. Kaminey surpasses even movies like Salaam Bombay and Slumdog Millionaire in the view of Bombay it has to offer. The latter was a fairytale; a gritty one, but a fable nonetheless. However, Kaminey keeps it more bad ass and real. It covers Bombay beyond the elite areas and Dharavi, to the nook and corners; the underbelly and the glitz. It provides authenticity to every aspect, from the locations to the language and clothing. Moreover, in its 140 minutes odd runtime, it references and encapsulates some of the most important, often forgotten events Bombay over the last 20 years: the nexus of narcotics, police, politics; the international links in the business of cocaine; the hypocrisy of politics on linguistic lines and much more. Bharadwaj doesn’t develop all these themes in detail, but he doesn’t need to. His mature understanding of the themes he is engaging with and his willingness to push boundaries and offend the politically correct is what makes Kaminey an intelligent thriller rather than merely an exercise in nihilistic violence.
Last, but certainly not least, Vishal Bharadwaj combines characters and actors with rare dexterity. In Omkara, he made an actor out of Saif Ali Khan. Here, he does the same with Shahid Kapur who plays the double role of a bad ass and a simple guy with an equal measure or flamboyance and restraint. With Priyanka, he redefines the heroine of Hindi cinema. She is dashing, dangerous, forward and yet caring, real and looks gorgeous without make up. But more importantly, he never lets his characters act inconsistently. They may act mad, instinctive, strange but never out of character. There is a rational explanation for every action of theirs. This makes a flaw difficult to spot. This also probably sets him apart considerably from Tarantino and the like, and in my opinion, for the better.
Of course, the film is not without its flaws. The end could have been slightly tighter. There are some scenes that may have been better done. However, these are minor and forgivable flaws in an otherwise outstanding motion picture, which is, without doubt, the best we have seen this year so far. Take a bow, Mr. Bharadwaj, take a bow.