Kaminey is the best Bollywood film I’ve seen this year. It’s an audacious, original rollercoaster ride. Written and directed by Vishal Bharadwaj, Kaminey requires patience and attention but the pay off is more than worth it.
Kaminey is about Charlie and Guddu, twin brothers played by Shahid Kapoor, both of whom suffer from speech impediments and who can’t stand the sight of each other. Charlie, who pronounces S as F, is a small time gangster. Guddu, who stammers, is a mousy NGO worker. Guddu’s life plans, chalked out until 2014 on a chart stuck in his cupboard, are wrecked when he impregnates Sweety, his fiery girlfriend who until now has neglected to tell him that she is the sister of a powerful gangster-politician, Bhope, played by Amol Gupte. Meanwhile Charlie has come to possess a guitar containing cocaine worth 10 crore. The quintessential gambler thinks he’s finally hit the big score. What follows is a frantic, convoluted journey through Mumbai’s mean streets which are of course populated by many Kamineys: corrupt cops, nasty drug dealers, gun wielding henchmen. Eventually, the brothers’ determinedly separate narratives collide and they are forced to come together.
Be warned: there are stretches of Kaminey that will thoroughly confuse you, starting with the first fifteen minutes. The film has eleven-odd characters that you need to keep track of. Snatches of dialogue are in Bengali and Marathi. If you look away from the screen to send a text message, you might miss another twist in this very, very tangled tale. The first half moves slowly. You might be bewildered and perhaps even bored. But stay with the film. Because the pacing picks up in the second half and Vishal ties up the threads in an exhilarating climax, which, incredibly enough, manages to combine stunning violence with humor.
Kaminey is that rarest of things: an unpredictable Hindi movie. Vishal, referencing the crackling gangster dramas of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, keeps it gritty and dark. Violence looms large over Kaminey but the tension is layered with black humor. The film reworks Hindi cinema’s favorite formula - twins - into a bloody theater of the absurd. Charlie and Guddu are unlike any twins you’ve seen before. Each one is willing to sacrifice the other to get what he wants. This is the role or roles of a lifetime and Shahid Kapoor, best known for innocuous chocolate-boy romances, sinks his teeth in. Kaminey does for him what Omkara did for Saif Ali Khan. A star has evolved into an actor.
Sweety is this year’s most exciting heroine after Paro in Dev D, and Priyanka plays her with aplomb. Only her perfectly manicured nails struck me as out of synch with her character. Vishal has equal affection for the smaller players: from the coke-addled Mikhail played nicely by Chandan Roy Sanyal to the Jai Maharashtra-spouting Bhope. Each one is flesh and blood.
Kaminey will take some getting used to. It isn’t the comfort food that Bollywood normally dishes out. But I strongly recommend that you see it. This taste is worth acquiring.