The protagonist of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey (2009) tells during the beginning of the movie: “We are never screwed by the paths that we take, but by those which we don’t”. And at the end of the film, this is exactly what must be told of Kaminey too. The idea behind Kaminey is inarguably great – so great that each one of us who hears it would be tempted to elaborate on it, make our own version of it and provide a whole new dimension to it. The sad thing is that that is precisely what has happened. With much hype behind it, Kaminey has proved to be yet another idea wasted, but is sure to have its own takers claiming everything, from Shahid’s six pack abs to its pretty neat soundtrack, as a reason to celebrate it as a masterpiece. Cinema is often called a “collaborative art” and Kaminey serves to prove that the real challenge is not to produce art, but to derive it out of collaboration. What would make for a more interesting movie than Kaminey would be a film about its making, for it is surely going to be funny seeing too many people trying to incorporate their own vision into the film, leaving the director helpless.
Here is the plot for those who would like to know what the film is about. I’m pruning down a lot of details which Bhardwaj seems to have retained for the sake of filling the runtime of the film. Guddu and Charlie (both played by Shahid Kapur) are twins. Guddu is working in an NGO, spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS and is in love with Sweety (Priyanka Chopra). Sweety is pregnant with Guddu’s child and is the sister of Bhope (Amol Gupte), a fundamentalist politician who is now hell bent on getting rid of Guddu to stabilize his position in the party. Charlie, on the other hand, is a gambler and a small time crook. He dreams of having his own horse-race booking company and hopes to grab hold of lady luck by whatever way he can. His villain is Tashi (Tenzing Nima), a high-profile gangster with international connections whose “goods” fall into the hands of Charlie. There are also some two dozen characters who enter the screen now and then, laugh manically, get shot and get forgotten. And yes, their paths cross, things (are made to) happen and they live happily ever after.
Kaminey is written by four people and it shows. Remember the game we used to play where each one of us took turns to add one line to take the story forward? Now remove all the fun from that and voila, you have the script of Kaminey. This proverbial broth absorbs a specific character from each one of its cooks, but doesn’t have one of its own. Nor does it present memorable characters in it. May be Bhardwaj was trying to create a Pulp Fiction (1994) of sorts, but the result is far from it. His characters are quirky for the sake being quirky. May be their names do allude to some movie classics, but you almost hear them crying out: “Hey there, I’m a offbeat and kinky character. Please love me and imitate me”. Neither are they employed as abstractions to make large scale statements about the world as in “arthouse cinema”, nor are they distorted and caricatured to pay homage and refer to film history as in Pulp Fiction and nor are they used to summarize the spirit of the age. They are not even real people living in all three dimensions. Characters come and characters go. Peripheral characters have their own limelight and die without a trace.
Let me try to clarify what I mean by summarizing what “each script” of Kaminey wants to be and what it turns out to be. The first of these was the potential USP of the film. Kaminey is full of Bolly references. Two brothers, who love each other, growing up on either side of the law, a larger than life baddie who vacations in exotic locales while giving orders to pull the trigger elsewhere and even a climax where almost all the characters in the film start firing at each other, while the bad bro turns martyr to save his sibling – we’ve seen them all before. What Kaminey seems to be trying is to pay tribute to and give a reboot to this Masala Noir genre while attempting to retain the sensibilities of today’s generation. But such a film ought not to take itself seriously. Instead it has to go for the laughs, all the way. This is where the second thread of Kaminey intervenes. One might argue that Bhardwaj was trying to give a slick production like Raghavan’s superb Johnny Gaddaar (2007), but characters in such films, I believe, should never be psychoanalyzed. Look at each character in Gaddaar. What do they all want? Simple. Money. Each of them is a mere placeholder, a mere entity that is driven along by the plot, its uncertainties and well, its fate. Kaminey, on the other hand, earnestly elaborates on the characters’ motivations and dreams, trying to make us empathize with them. It even presents extended Freudian sequences for this “purpose”.
Kaminey is then a character-driven film, you say? Let’s take the case of Guddu and Sweety – the two characters that the writers may claims as having depth. Apart from their one night-stand, we are given about three short scenes that are supposed to illustrate their relationship. The first of this is a perfunctory “chemistry scene”. The second one, which turns up just after the fiasco at their marriage ceremony, seems like just another ploy to siphon sympathy. And wait till you hear what the laughable basis of their romance is, in the third scene which takes place in a train. And finally, the most annoying of all the contributions is what makes the already out of control film seem overreaching and pretentious. With a tacked up message that blows up to full scale during the final shootout and cooked up observations that would make Thomas Friedman scratch his head, Kaminey shows signs of a naughty liberal chuckling his way through. Kaminey is not four films packed into one, but one film torn apart into four. Even if it had stuck to one of those paths, Bhardwaj would have had a pretty decent bullet point in his resumé.
Everything seems to come in pairs in Kaminey. There are pairs of brothers everywhere in the film. I would have even loved if the rapper-gangsta from Bombay to Bangkok (2007) showed up in Kaminey to claim that Tashi was his half-brother! But seriously, Kaminey never capitalizes upon this opportunity anywhere in the film. Let me just tell you about a couple of points in the film where I thought it could have taken the “other path” and salvaged itself to an extent. The first is at the intermission point, where Guddu and Charlie are confronted by wrong sets of goons. There was scope both for some awesome comedy and awesome suspense there. Not by the regular identity-confusion gag (and if the film’s vision was strong, that too), but by some subversion of conventions and morals. Instead, the film opts for some slapdash rush towards the climax, which is the second time I felt that the film could somewhat reset itself towards the destination it wanted. When more than a dozen characters are present on your canvas for a single scene, it’s very easy to mash it all up and that is exactly what happens. But this could have proved to be gold if only Bhardwaj had decided to stick to the true purpose of the film.
I may be just playing the troll over here, but surely, none of the scenes hold together. Each version of the film’s script seems to pull down the other, taking the film into a zone of utter indecisiveness. Kaminey, unfortunately, does not even have the surface gloss of Dev D (2009). Using ill-focused, largely handheld shots, Kaminey betrays both its history and quality. One can’t even comment on the technical aspects of the film, for the script leaves them without a direction. So it remains a mystery whether the excessive number of close-ups did good to the film or whether Bhardwaj’s device of revealing the past towards the end was apt, for the film does not seem to know what is good for it at all. All that is amusing in the film is the way Shahid Kapur makes lisping sound funny (lisping is new, stammering is out of date, you know). As for Vishal Bhardwaj, it is only good that he now returns to his personal and honest way of storytelling, for god sake, having a say on the final script. I risked Swine Flu by going to this movie and I say I deserve a medal.