On this day, 15/08/2009 (yes I still prefer writing it this way), I watched Kaminey with a bunch of friends in a theatre in the other side of St Louis. Followed up by Taxidriver minus the first twenty minutes in my side of town at Tivoli.
Exactly 62 years after Salman Rushdie gave birth to Salim Sinai and his evil twin in 1981, Vishal Bharadwaj has come up with his own story of twins. Here again, we have a story of Mumbaikars who are not Mumbaikars, and brothers who are not brothers.
The movie opens like all good gangster movies should, with words dark and brooding. We have Charlie who hedges bets on losing horses and sports a lisp, and Guddu, who works for an NGO stammers his way through life. And a whole lot of other characters and convolutions in a very Ritchie-esque plot.
And Sweety of course. With a name like that you expect her to a Punjabi or an American stripper, of which she was neither. But what begins as a barely palpable sense of disappointment at her not being a stripper soon disappears, for she is easily one of the most interesting characters in the movie.
Charlie hopes to be a bookie one day. But thanks to one bad tip, he loses a few years worth of savings. Bharadwaj goes all Fellini on this one, with escapist dream sequences into what is essentially a rather grim realistic film. I omit plot details, and discuss only broader matters here. But there are spoilers everywhere. It is impossible to discuss style templates without them.
Guddu has just knocked up Sweety. Not a problem. Except that Guddu holds very Republican views. Again no problem. Except that Sweety is the daughter of the big bad ugly guy. Bharadwaj couldn't resist including flashes of 80's hindi cinema I guess. So they get hitched.
Lock , Stock and several smoking barrels later, the twin's fates conflate into one, like all twin's fates in good cinema should. Two very noble pursuits interest the twins. One each. Guddu wants to save his woman for which he needs money, and Charlie wants money so that he can have his women.
The entire idea of having racehorses as a central motif is highly reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. But I may be alone in this belief , for the similarities end here. Kaminey makes use of a fairly straightforward linear narrative structure,except for small flashbacks , although the core of the script seemed to provide plenty of opportunities to do otherwise.
The film screams Godard with every frame. Atleast in spirit. Jumpcuts are employed in the central action-chase sequence, but not in the Brechtian way that Godard initially intended. Here it is done largely for storytelling purposes, and it works quite effectively. Kaminey even goes to the extent of implementing Godard's famous quote" All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun" into action. In fact, Bharadwaj goes one step further and gives the girl the gun. At this point, I , as an esteemed member of the 'majority of the male audience' club, was hoping that she was leather clad and sitting on a Harley Davidson. But it has become a habit of late, for filmmakers to disappoint the male majority. Sigh.
Every frame is an experiment in the film. Watch out for the interesting use of mirrors in the sequence where Sweety and Guddu argue over their futures, and for the very psychedelic Dhan te nan.Mentor Bharadwaj betters protege Anurag Kashyap 's Dev D in this respect.
The dialogues gave me a hard time trying to wipe a small smile off my face. I was also helped by the subtitles, which also had their own transliterative unintentional humourous side effects.
I was disappointed by the fact that Bharadwaj chose to develop the twin's characters in the latter half of the film. He should not be making mistakes like these after successfully adapting two of Shakespeare's plays.
Shahid Kapoor is impressive in the film. But only just. But pretty good by Bollywood standards, Maybe acting does run in the genes.The music is pretty impressive too. But nothing less can be expected of Bharadwaj, after Maqbool and Omkara.
The ending can be interpreted in at least two ways. One is the conventional 80's hindi movie -Ram Gopal Varma mutation ending, which I guess is how most people have interpreted it.
The other is more unconventional and significantly more politically incorrect. There are whole sequences with Charlie and the Bengali gangster engaged in playful physical fights and rolls, which kind of had an homoerotic undertone. And Charlie's actions seem very strongly motivated by the gangster's death. This is the part where I step on several toes, but the whole concept of Charlie having a lisp, which is very standard and unfortunate gay stereotype, also suggested that he was a repressed homosexual. However this may have not been intentional on the part of the director.
Here is the good part. The end can be interpreted as a post death dream of Charlie. He dreams of being a successful bookie, married to a woman. This to me looked like Charlie's homosexual guilt coming through, because the addition of a female character in the end seemed rather contrived, suggesting that he hoped to be straight, in a highly homophobic society. This interpretation highlights the films redemptive qualities, whereas it is very difficult to think highly of the film.
The film however as a whole, is still probably nowhere close to Vishal Bharadwaj's most impressive in recent times. By trying to tell his story, Vishal Bharadwaj celebrates the 62nd birthday of Salim Sinai, and in his visuals and songs, celebrates the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. In this story of twins, he combines Charlie and Guddu, typical hindi with European cinema, and chalk with cheese.
Unfortunately you find yourself taking a big bite off a chalk pizza at times.