Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kaminey: Missing Some Dil

Another re-post! Since I was just talking about it...

Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey is a collection of small, beautifully crafted vignettes, acted by gifted performers, and containing some sharp and funny dialogues. While I enjoyed each scene immensely as it played out, Kaminey never came together as a whole – each scene remained separate, creating a dish of disparate flavors rather than a full masala - and leaving me emotionally unsatisfied and, by the end, intellectually unsatisfied, as well.

Kaminey is the story of Charlie (Shahid Kapoor), a petty gangster and wannbe bookie who gets sucked up into events beyond his experience and abilities – a classic heist film, following 99 (my favorite film of the year so far) or Johnny Gaddar (which I also liked better than Kaminey) among others. Complicating the heist is Charlie’s twin brother Guddu (also Shahid Kapoor), a dour NGO employee, and Guddu’s girlfriend Sweety (Priyanka Chopra), who has some inconvenient family connections. Add to the mix three or four different gangsters and all their henchmen and you have quite a cast of characters cluttering up the mix – with Priyanka’s character Sweety being the only woman with more than a line or two of dialogue.

Before I pick apart everything that bothered me about Kaminey, let me first spell out what I thought really worked, because Kaminey does have some amazing ingredients – the more the shame that they are wasted in this film. First of all, the performances all around were excellent. Shahid creates two very different characters in Charlie and Guddu, each believable in his own way. Priyanka gives a career-best performance as Sweety. I expect we’ll see her nominated for another Filmfare award for her work here – she’s gritty and tough in a way that I’ve never seen Priyanka Chopra handle before and she does it beautifully. Vishal Bhardwaj is unparalleled at getting his actors to handle complex emotional scenes. All of the supporting cast is fantastic, as well, from Amol Gupte’s callous Marathi-nativist politician to Tenzing Nima’s blissed out drug lord to Chandan Roy as Charlie’s best friend – when given screen time, they all eat it up.

And the scenes themselves are beautifully composed and executed. For example, there is a confrontation between Amol Gupte and Chandan Roy in Charlie’s apartment that had me on the edge of my seat. One of the men is drunk and begins play fighting with his gun – the other pulls out his and pretends to shoot back, all the while the audience is waiting, waiting, waiting for a gunshot from one or the other of them and Vishal drags it out at a satisfyingly slow pace, keeping the tension high. In another scene, we see two police officers trying to extract information from Guddu – who has a stutter. Unable to speak in his agitated state, they come up with another way of getting him to spill the beans – to sing! Again, Vishal manages to build dramatic tension really satisfyingly across this small scene.

Yet, and here is my major issue with the film, all of this dramatic tension that builds across scenes is utterly lost as soon as we transition to something else. The film is so packed full of characters and plots that no overarching narrative thread emerges to tie everything together. Now, if you are the kind of viewer who enjoys sharp dialogues and clever plotting above all else, then you will find much to enjoy in Kaminey. However, if you, like me, demand either an emotional narrative – the masala dil - or an intellectual meta-narrative theme, then I would caution against seeing Kaminey.

As for me, I grew bored with the constant switching from plot thread to plot thread and latched on Charlie as my point-of-view character fairly early on. Like Parinda or Deewar, Kaminey has two brothers who have chosen different tracks in life – in Kaminey, it’s a double role – twins. I read a few reviews that classified this double role as a “twist” on a classic or an “update” but I didn’t see it as either (I kept waiting for a twist that never showed up!) and the brotherly relationship is put way in the background. More compelling, to me, was the homoerotic relationship between Charlie and his friend Chandan Roy.

Charlie’s fantasies and (the director’s?) fantasies of Charlie as a horse in a horse race were so compelling and yet we didn’t get enough backstory to fill in any emotional cues in the narrative. Unlike in Parinda or Deewar or even Slumdog Millionaire that all anchor us in the characters’ origins so that we understand where all these actions are coming from, Kaminey doesn’t seem to care. We get some information tossed at us late in the film but by that point, I didn’t care anymore. Why the brothers took different paths in life; why Sweety felt compelled to go against her family; the significance of the speech impediments – nothing meant anything. It’s all surface gloss.

Sweety and Guddu’s relationship was given a bit more screentime than the brothers but even then I didn’t really see any chemistry between Shahid and Priyanka. The romance is as much of an afterthought as it is in all those macho two-brother films of days past and maybe that was intentional on Vishal Bhardwaj’s part but if it was, I must take him to task for not including any other female characters. I can and do enjoy films without romances but films without any female characters tend to lose my interest. Would it have been so difficult to make one of the police or the gangsters a woman? Was Pratima Kazmi unavailable? Even a brothel madam or a dancing girl would have been welcome, as stereotypical as those roles are.

99, a much more compelling film, also had a wide cast of characters and multiple gangs to keep track of and yet managed to feel more uncluttered. Kaminey filled each frame with new faces, new stories, new dialogues, new subplots, new motivations… you lost track of the one that came just before.

Now, maybe some of you will try to tell me that it’s just Vishal Bhardwaj trying to make us think and that I must only like stupid films. I will tell you now that that is not the case. I enjoyed No Smoking - a much more complex and abstract film. I also enjoy the labyrinthine plots of vintage masala films AND the gritty “real life” feel of films like Parinda. The difference is that the winding plot of Jewel Thief took you somewhere. The grit and dirt and lack of women in Parinda meant something – it had emotional heft. No Smoking had a larger abstract point that it was trying to make. Even the just as candy-floss Johnny Gaddar was able to hold my attention with a rip-roaring and fast moving plot.

Kaminey was just not that great of a film. It had great performances – yes (and career-best from Shahid and Priyanka) and wonderful moments but it doesn’t work as a whole.

And on a final and petty note, how dare Vishal Bhardwaj cast Shahid Kapoor and only give him 30 seconds of dancing to do!! The song picturization for “Dhan Te Nan” was extremely crappy.


Anita said...

I'm not as big a fan of Kaminey as most people are, but even when the trailers came out, I was mostly meh. I love the songs and I thought Charlie was an extremely interesting character, but on the whole, I kinda wish I had just re-watched Omkara instead. :P

eliza bennet said...

Kaminey was a huge suprise as far as I'm concerned. Liking neither Shahid nor Priyanka, I purchased it because of the director and I LOVED the film.

The cinematography especially was fantastic and the story telling was very good.

Shahid knocked me off with his performance(s). And it is the first time I actually forgot that it was Priyanka and think of her just as Sweety.

And I loved the soundtrack! I kick myself for not purchasing it when I had the chance.

I may be the only one who love Dhan Te Nan song picturisation. To me it suited the characters' frame of mind and mood perfectly - I actually watched it again right after finishing watching the film.

Filmi Girl said...

@anita You and me both! I was ready to give Kaminey some serious benefit of the doubt but it just doesn't hold up. I have a feeling it will date itself very quickly...

@eliza I'm glad you enjoyed it! It just wasn't my kind of film... :)

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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