Synopsis – The film is a dark comedy about life, death and karma.
My Take – It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven long years since the Abhinay Deo directed and Aamir Khan produced outrageous yet excellent black comedy, Delhi Belly, released to mass hysteria all the while setting a new benchmark in a genre most Bollywood filmmakers have been failing at gloriously over the years. The film led by Imran Khan, Vir Das and Kunaal Roy Kapur was not just funny, dark and humorous, but was also a splendid showcase of how a film works when it’s writing, direction and cast worked in sync with each other. While cast and crew swallowed in the success and moved on, the film’s writer, Akshat Verma stayed in the shadows all this time and announced his arrival last year in this directorial debut, which found itself into news reports, not just for its hysterical trailer, but for being ordered 73 Cuts by CBFC in order to garner itself an A certificate, a situation which led to the film’s postponement from its original well occupied September release to last weekend’s slow January release before hurricanes known as Padmavat and Pad Man strike the box office. Coming to the content, running for just 112 minutes, the film rides on an exciting idea, as the title derived from a Marathi slang meaning a situation gone terribly wrong, guarantees moments of outrageous fun especially coming from Saif Ali Khan‘s character, who is hilarious here, however, I personally think it’s hard to ignore how those moments are far too discrete and uneven throughout. It’s unfortunate considering how writer-director Akshat Verma manages to keep the film as trippy & absurd as his previous shot at black-comedy, but here his writing does not provide enough justice for the film’s multiple narratives to merge smoothly together, hereby effecting the film’s overall impact.
Taking place in Mumbai over a single night, the story follows four parallel lives; one is about a decent banker (Saif Ali Khan), who discovers that he has stomach cancer. Shocked at the development, that despite a clean life that included no smoking, no drinking and no drugs, he has just a few months to live, in order to find out what he has been missing, he decides to drop in acid (LSD) and enters a psychedelic world where he is fearless. Meanwhile, at his home, the wedding season is on as his bother Angad (Akshay Oberoi) is getting married to his sweetheart (Amyra Dastur), yet unknown to everyone Angad is going through pre-marital anxiety, and jumps at the opportunity to a spend a night with his ex (Amanda Rosario). Somewhere else in Bombay, in a cozy abode, a boyfriend (Kunaal Roy Kapur) is mustering up to accept that his “hot” girlfriend (Sobhita Dhulipala) is moving to New York in order to pursue her studies with a bag full of thongs and other sexy lingerie. But before taking the final flight, they have to attend the birthday of her close friend (Shehnaz Treasury). Just that while they think it’ll only be one drink before they call off the night, the couple gets in trouble as there’s a police raid busting a drug racket in the same club, while somewhere else in the dingy streets of underbelly Bombay, two henchmen (Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz) are picking up bags of cash to be deposited for their gangster boss, en route they banter and hatch a get-rich-quick plan of their own, which may involve betraying almost everyone they know. During the course of the film, the paths of these disparate characters cross in the most fleeting fashion, resulting in dramatic consequences for all of them. If described in simplest of terms, the film is more of an acid trip which at first seems excellent, but later starts to wear you down. The entire film, its four narratives and many sub-plots unfold in just one night in the city of Mumbai and even though disparate, the makers have tried to infuse the theory of life, death and karma in four of them. As the film is set in Mumbai about two-thirds of its dialogues are in English, a choice that is well suited to the milieus it inhabits. Director Verma has an interesting enough concept in place here and has picked just the right bunch of artistes to get where he wants to go. Yes, the film does share quite a resemblance to Delhi Belly, as there is an underworld link, there is sex, there is a silly comedy, and people screwing up everywhere, of course, the number of cuss words are probably same or more. It also indicates that director Verma could not think of something else than these common elements. However, leaving the comparisons aside, the film has lot of funny moments. The first half of the film is garnished with laugh out loud moments. A recurring gag is one that takes clear potshots at the police, here, director Verma takes a not-so-subtle dig at the police force in the way they treat relatively less important issues—busting a party in a hotel, harassing a man having a chat with a “lady”, questioning two men hanging out in a park—with far more gravity than a hit-and-run, which is dismissed without batting an eyelid because it suits their purpose. Director Verma’s shows the cops in all their ridiculous glory—overweight, absurd, twisted, corrupt. Sadly, the rest of the film does not live up to this potential, since it is neither madcap enough nor pacey enough nor raunchy enough nor witty enough nor shocking enough nor clever enough nor gutsy enough nor experimental enough to have the effect that it seems to be aiming for, as the tempo drops considerably in the second half, I found myself clueless about what this film was searching for, and when the Karma based climax kicked in, it all just looked mad, and not in an entertaining way.
There are many first film issues here as it is technically inconsistent and the narrative doesn’t quite pull together, as you are waiting for the loose plots to come together as the film nears its end, but that does not happen quite to satisfaction. You are left with some doubts, a lack of closure, like there’s maybe something that slipped between the writing and the final edit. Writer-director Verma’s screenplay has an episodic structure, but his characters are mostly cookie-cutter stereotypes. The fast paced narratives, even though interesting enough in their respective bits, fail to drive the film in a coherent fashion. Like one gets the entwining of life, death and karma in the narratives but some things feel misplaced and except for Saif‘s brush with Sheela and a certain angle in Shobhita-Kunaal‘s story, the depth goes for a heavy toss in other subplots rendering an inconsistency to the film. In fact, no other character is persuasive enough to stay with you except for the idea of a dying man determined to now live his life to the fullest. Director Verma’s inability to flesh out his basic idea laid out in the start is particularly unfortunate because Saif is in his element here. Despite some clever conversational humor and sight gags, the strands struggle to leave an imprint and the best track, which really should have been the whole film, is the only one with the substance and life to keep this film going. Saif’s character, who is on a spree to complete his check-list, decides to see the “Cape Town” of a transgender sex worker Sheela (Nary Singh). The mutual respect and understanding between them two is an understated gem and a commendable sensitive feat by the writer, with the ladies restroom scene is in fact one of the key highlights of the film. Director Verma’s handling of the brush between Sheela and Saif’s character is skillful and sensitive while also being very funny. This one has all the fun bits, the best lines, and the wild times that are absent from the other sub-plots, like the wedding photographer (Isha Talwar) who is more like a party to all that unfolds in Saif‘s life that night or the ex girlfriend that sort of plays a role in making Angad realize certain things or the Shehnaz‘s young sex-slave (Shivam Patil) who doesn’t have much to do in the film or the gangster boss, who knows when to call a bluff or not. Yes, Angad’s story has its temperature-raising moments but is soon doused by conventional sentimentality. But the final story here, based on the supreme talents of Vijay Raaz & Deepak Dobriyal, is a complete waste. Despite two powerhouse performers & a ton of abusive language, this story is devoid of motive or impact. Also, there is no sense of when events are taking place, or how long they are spread over. For one thing, no phones go off when Saif’s character and Angad go missing for what seems to be an eternity. Mumbai doesn’t change character as the night wears on even though the film has ample opportunities to suggest a forward crawl. The loose writing deprives the film of the compactness it should have had considering that it’s run time of 112 minutes is far less than the average Bollywood length. As mentioned above, Saif Ali Khan shines in the film and delivers an effortless performance safely transitioning from Hindi to English honing his quirky best. Saif moves smoothly between behavior that is outrageous and touching, delivers wacky lines with aplomb, and conveys the film’s desired madcap quality without a trace of self-consciousness. He was sweetly likeable in Chef last year and beautifully melded amorality with heart in Rangoon before that, however, here he lets his hair down wonderfully as he descends into nuttiness, it’s a shame that the film can never match up-to his bare-naked madness. The ensemble cast comprising Vijay Raaz and Deepak Dobriyal deliver yet again despite the lack of depth in the characters which spoils the fun; Akshay Oberoi, Sobhita Dhuliapala, Kunal Roy Kapur and Shenaz Treasurywala are also quite good. In smaller roles, Isha Talwar, Amyra Dastur and Neil Bhoopalam are wasted. On the whole, ‘Kaalakaandi‘ has its hilarious moments and a cracking Saif Ali Khan in top form, but lacks the peculiar elements of a good black comedy.
Directed – Akshat Verma
Rated – R
Run Time – 112 minutes