Kaminey—the Review

86 Comments

In the 70s and early 80s, directors like Manmohan Desai perfected what came to be known as the Hindi movie formula—–big-multicasters with larger-than-life heroes, chawanni-flinging dialogs, black-and-white linear stories with strong moral messages, elaborate expositions that allowed one to miss thirty minutes of the movie at any time and still be able to follow it once he came back, eye-patched white-suit wearing villains, ever-sacrificing “Nirupa Roy” mothers, epic running times so that even if one did not quite enjoy the movie, one could get 3 hours 20 minutes of shut-eye in a cool air-conditioned theater.

The late 80s and the 90s saw a transformation in this well-accepted standard template, one that was caused by a change in audience tastes.  Movies that slavishly followed the older formula, for instance Amitabh Bachchan’s so-called comeback series of movies, were rejected and many of the older movie moguls faded away. Barjatiya-Chopra-Johar became the standard-holders for the new formula namely that of  NRI romances targeted towards the international market which were defined by drastic improvements in production quality, foreign locales, family values, syrupy love stories and Manish Malhotra costumes.

In the 2000s, things changed once again. Multiplexes altered the economics of film distribution as it allowed the movie moguls to target niche educated urban 15–35 audiences with disposable incomes, the demographic that had benefited the most from economic liberalization. Brought up on a steady diet of Hollywood movies on Star Movies and from the video library, this market segment were no longer content with supposedly down-market, dated old-school Bollywood of Ajit and Bindoo and Johnny Lever.

They wanted movies with a Hollywood look and feel. They wanted Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, Danny Boyle and more than a bit of David Lynch.

In response to this demand, Sanjay Gupta and his ilk launched a wave of slavish almost frame-by-frame imitations of foreign flicks, as they sought to distinguish themselves stylistically from traditional Bollywood by their adoption of “oh so cool” editing and narrative techniques like jump cuts, non-linearity, freeze frames, split screens, super slow motion. Some of these movies attained commercial success yet so like each other were they in terms of their derivativeness that none of them could be said to stand out in a defining way.

As the first decade of the 2000s come to a close, we were looking for that one movie that future generations could point to as that which represented the  new “formula” of the  2000s, an “international” looking movie with a true Bollywood heart.

Well that movie is finally here.

It is Kaminey, Vishal Bharadwaj’s most commercial venture ever.

Don’t go expecting “Blue Umbrella”, “Dev D”  or for that matter “Omkara” or “Maqbool”. This is as formula as formula can be but with the dash of originality and execution that made “Amar Akbar Anthony” or “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” such iconic representatives of their times.

The story, once you strip it off the fluff and style, is as old as the hills—of blood being the strongest bond of all, of identical “judwa” brothers caught in a comedy of errors, one on the wrong side of the law and one on the right, each with distinctive styles of speaking reminiscent of an old Bollywood device by which idiosyncrasies were built into the way characters delivered dialogs in order to make them memorable (Gulshan Grover tried to give each villain one such “style” from “Baad maaan” to “Kismaaaatttt” and Shakti Kapoor had his “Aoooo” and “Oaaaaa” and “Lolitaaa”). The villains are numerous, in a throwback to the “Zindagi Ek Jua” days, with distinctively bad-ass personas —be it the parochial Manoos-cum-underworld badshaah Bhau or the mysterious Tashi (I could almost see Danny Dengzoppa in that role) or my personal favorite— the Bangali Dadas who have some of the best lines of the movie, that too in Bangla.

The style too is very inspired—-the character-interactions and the fast intersections of disparate storylines are very Tarantino-esque (the riff of “Dhan Tana” sounds very similar to the “Pulp Fiction” theme), there is more than a bit of Guy Ritchie in the guns and the mayhem with the climactic “shootout” more reminiscent of Sergio Leone than a “tumhari ma humare kabze main hain” classic “axion”  ending the new generation loves to lampoon.

What however makes “Kaminey” rise head and shoulders above its contemporaries is the cleverness by which the story and the style are packaged together, making it an amazing “commercial” product  standing on the four “foundations” (or “bamboos” as anyone who has seen “Mard” would say) of Hindi movie success—  “deramaa”, “emosion” , “pheel good”  and “phataak” music. A lot of credit for “Kaminey”‘s distinctiveness must go to Vishal Bharadwaj who, perhaps more than any of new contemporaries, has his finger on the pulse on the new audience, in the same way that Manmohan Desai and Yash Chopra and David Dhawan and Subhash Ghai once had.  He is helped to no small extent by Shahid Kapoor, who carries a lot of the film on his muscled-up shoulders,  an eclectic cast of highly competent performers and a tight, flab-free script which expertly straddles the fine line between poking the audience in the eye with a finger and deliberate “Look I am an arty fellow” obscurantism, while delivering a heady shot of  clever profanity-riden, earthy “real” lines  of the kind that “aaj ka launde” prefer in their movies (some of which are not even spoken—-like the “apna haath jagannath” scribbled on the bathroom).

In conclusion, Kaminey is not high art.

But it is fun. A whole lot of fun.

And I would say that in itself makes it worth going to the theaters to see.

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86 thoughts on “Kaminey—the Review

  1. Vishal Bharadwaj has made some pretty good movies in the past. Omkara was a brilliant movie I’d never imagined would be made by an Indian moviemaker. People had problems with the un-cultural usage of language. But then, we are people who have take this whole protestation thing to a whole new level of art form.
    Kaminey, I’d want to watch it. After a long time I really want to watch a Hindi movie. Last time I was this excited was when I was expecting Gulaal.

  2. Lot of unsaid things and other spoken ones make the movie memorable. The way Mikhail becomes Tope and then Tashi says he has Tope, and other such loops.

    Also, maybe just I saw it, but Charlie’s love for Mikhail. The inflection point for him to drop the cocaine is a sight of Mikhail’s body, and the naming of the bookie joint. It is perhaps on the homo erotic side. May be its just me.

  3. Here’s the difference between a good and an average director. VB takes all the cliched characters and situations of the 70s movies and puts them into a story which is original. Other directors, when they get inspired or pay a tribute, they simply copy the plot of the originals eg: OSO, Phir Hera Pheri or Fool n Final. VB is one of a kind director and he lays a strong emphasis on the story. Watch out for the next film from his production house titled ‘Ishqiya’.

  4. I think the movie was an experiment, an attempt to make something different – for which we should laud Vishal Bharadwaj. In an industry which reeks of “inspiration” and sleaze something different is always welcome. But the question remains – is “different” always “good” ?
    Lets not compare it to Pulp Fiction – please lets not do that! The vice-like-post-modern grip which Pulp Fiction caught you with is nowhere to be found here. The film merely ebbs and flows from one expectant wave to another. Where is the “needle into the heart” moment?
    But as you said – it is not high art. And we should not treat it like one (like what the media here is doing). It’s a decent movie with decent songs – to be talked over breakfast the next day – and on Monday morning with colleagues at work. That’s it.

  5. Rahul – there are lots and lots of movie-goers who do not find Pulp Fiction a high art either, but just..ahem..pulp fiction! So yes, let’s not compare!

  6. u summed it up perfectly, GB – its not high art, but its a whole lot of fun! Couldn’t agree more with most of what u said- especially Danny in Tashi’s role…Also the movie reminded me of reservoir dogs in a vague way.

  7. Brilliant review GB – You’ve got your hand on the pulse of movie makers and their thoughts definitely… I enjoyed most of the movie…

    I was looking forward to watching Kaminey. I somehow felt good about Shahid’s look and his lisp-ness in the promos. I wasn’t disappointed, not for the first half at least. For the better part of the movie, it keeps you engrossed, it surprises you and the tight crisp script keeps you edgy. But later somehow, it just flattens out. The brilliant screenplay somehow nearing the end loses steam and just wants to get done with. And the surprising part is that the lengthy climax scene wasn’t really necessary. The movie could’ve ended before the climax began when Charlie gives the guitar to Guddu. But I dunno why, all the characters gather in a chawl in Mumbai and the climax goes to party with blazing guns. It feels like suddenly Vishal went for a loo break and Priyadarshan took over…

    More on my blog :)

  8. Phataphati movie guru! But I cudnt get any words of marathi :( i guess the same wud be true 4 the manoos who heard the bangla dialogues. for a change bengali characters are not given dialogues like “issshhh”. big change in the way we look @ hindi movies…

  9. Shouldn’t there be a “Kanoon ke haath bahut lambey hothey hain” dialogue too towards the end of this movie?

    From GB’s Movie Review, it appears to be a must-see movie …. paisa vasool stuff, eh? ;)

  10. Excellent review of a fun movie. Things that worked for me:
    Good acting, camera work, LOVED the characters and how everything comes together for a great climax.

    Tashi is a cool gangster. No character seems wasted, even that kid asking for chocolates from his “mama” – you know he is going to come in handy, just not how and when.

    Good dialogues, not a whole lot of talk, like this dig at Bombay when Guddu says “Bambai”, Bhope corrects him, asks when his father come to “Mumbai”, “1984” Guddu says “Tab yeh bambai hi tha” ..

    Good to see Deb Mukherjee and Good to see Bong bhais, fultoo sophisticated with sniper rifles and all.

  11. Wasnt too happy with the movie.
    There was something wrong with the editing, and some of the character development was haphazard.
    Acting wise it was pretty well done.
    Amole gupte and Chandan Roy were outstanding.
    The trippy disco song gave me weird seizures tho’!
    Average timepass i say.

  12. Loved it!!! Both the movie and your review.. I couldn’t believe some of my friends who found the movie boring and slow??? Too bad my hubby had to leave the theater even before the movie started coz my 2 yr old started howling!

  13. loved the movie..i thought the casting was gr8 all actors were spot on…
    the end i thought was very much like a priyadarshan movie…and I thought that Charlie’s character was on the edge of being gay

  14. @ Joy / Lisa / Bengal voice

    Why is it that, the Fathers have a duty to take their howling kids out, when mommy dear enjoyes the movie ????

    Dint see the movie but would like to have a look, with so many +ve reviws it won’t be waste of money I guess.

  15. “…. we were looking for that one movie that future generations could point to as that which represented the new “formula” of the 2000s, an “international” looking movie with a true Bollywood heart.”

    –Sorry sire, that movie already came out in 07: Johnny Gaddar.

  16. @joyjit,
    Good thing you had an alibi, buddy. Otherwise, I had a classic Dharmendra dialogue to throw at you: “Kuttey Kaminey.. Main tumhaara khoon peejaoonga.” ;)

    @Lisa,
    Thank you for the rakhi on Raksha Bandhan. ;)

  17. I found the movie pretty ordinary. Very “Snatch” like. I guess I went there with Omkara like expectations. I hope Vishal Bharadwaj sticks to non-commercial realist cinema from now on.

  18. @liza,

    Thanks for this post. Even though it’s off-topic I would request Arnab da not to remove it. It’s pretty relevent to our present suck-up media generation.

    By the way, as regards the review, it was great as usual. However, not to take anything away from the director, I think the actors do demand special mention. Shahid Kapur’s growth that started with his understated performance in “Jab We Met” has only gone further with Guddu and Charlie in “Kaminey”. And Priyanka Chopra was oh, so natural (and cute, too!)

    But the villains do take the cake. From Mikhail to Dada to Bhau to the corrupt cops, they were all great. And by the way, the way the film let some questions unanswered was good – like how the Inspector leading the raid is shown dithering with the 33% offer.

    All in all, a great movie. Vishal Baradwaj may not be Satyajit Ray, but with scriptwriting, direction and music direction packaged neatly, he maybe the best thing in Bollywood right now.

    P.S. I never knew Bengali Dada s are so big in Mumbai. May have made the wrong career choice myself :).

  19. I put this comment in another blog as well…My only regret in the movie was the song “Dhan Tan Na” should have had “paifa paifa” when they show Charlie singing it or someone else could have been singing it in the club. Didn’t expect an oversight of this kind from Vishal Bharadwaj.
    Did you notice the “devil’s horn” on Bhope’s head in his first scene in the movie? Brilliant!

  20. Sorry GB.. was just goofing around.. but let me have a last byte.. the walking out with howling kid also depends on which movie it is.. I did it for Ghajini knowing he’s a huge AK fan..
    Plz don’t moderate this GB .. its good marriage advice for newbies..

  21. Loved the review, GreatBong. As all your fans would agree, it’s absolutely perfect.

    I loved this part:
    In conclusion, Kaminey is not high art.

    But it is fun. A whole lot of fun.

    And I would say that in itself makes it worth going to the theaters to see.

    Kaminey is not high art, nail on the head. What is “high art” is your soon-to-be-releasing book, high artly titled “May I hebb your attention pliss”. I’m sure we can agree that it will make Kafka, Goethe and Tolstoy’s works look “a whole lot of fun” and “worth reading” in comparison.

    Please write more reviews about high art as and when you discover them.

    Warm regards,
    Low Art Philistine.

  22. Hey don’t forget the voiceover at the beginning of the film – Yeh duniya badi kutti cheez hai; aur uska ek hi jawab hai – followed by the title of the film, Kaminey! Brilliant!

  23. THANK YOU GREAT oh GREAT Bong!
    Finally I know why Dhan Tana sounded familiar! It, as you mentioned “sounds very similar to the “Pulp Fiction” theme”.

    I kiss the ground at your feet (figuratively) for finally bringing peace to my mind and ears – ringing with that irritating tune version as innumerable ring tones in my office floor keep buzzing all day.

    Finally! Oh Joyous moment! Now I can proceed to a theater to watch the movie and not quake at the thought of hearing that music again.

  24. Lets recollect some intelligent movies..irrespective of commercial success.
    Then lets recollect some thrillers,and finally remember some outstanding comedies. You ll find very few names.

    Kaminey, is more style than punch-tent.The grip is missing…or maybe because i ve had very high expectations…something like the difference between Braveheart and Gladiator.Though different genre of movies,still the effect is the same.

    Gladiator was a good movie,breathtaking action, slick cinematography,and smart narrative. But somewhere something was missing….

    Braveheart on the other hand…not half as technically sound…but had a life.Or was it because of Mel Gibson? The story gripped you.Absorbed you with it self.Made you flow with it.

    Hallmark of a great movie.Maqbool.It almost suck you into it.The charecters come alive. Kaminey evoked no such response.

    No doubt it was originally “treated”,great music,decent editing…but
    where’s the grip..which say a Johny Gaddar got you? Where’s the intelligence that a Teen Deewaren made you think?Where’s the mood that Ghayal had? Where’s the drama that Damini had ?

    Not saying that Kaminey should be judged like the above mentioned films,then the originality would be gone perhaps, but certainly the directors must’ve done something different that connected with the audience somewhere….

    All in all good effort…but not a DVD which I would keep for posterity.

  25. The kind of formula fillum that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did!
    I also thought Priyanka as a deglamourised Sweety was rather good.
    The old brain remained engaged all through!

  26. Although I think in the review, you missed some finer nuances of the movie. Like some quirks like the tope one mentioned above. Also, when Guddu says that Sweety is pregnant, he replies “to kya meri coke[sic] ujaadega?” I loved those.

  27. Nishit, I didnt. I just didnt want to spoil it for everyone. Like when Priyanka Chopra threatens the policewala that she is going to go to the press–main tehelka macha doongi….

  28. Well! How many times can I say that you are too good! I feel that especially after reading your comment as to why you didn’t include the finer details.

    I was one of the few, who could appreciate the Bangla and Marathi lines in the movie. :-)

  29. Agree with yourfan2. A brilliant analysis of the Hindi movie formula. I was not much impressed with Piggy Chops though; she was the weak link.

  30. The “gay” edge of charlie’s character might have some ref to Guy Ritichie’s RockNrolla – where Mr. one-two & Handsome Bob are best buddies and Bob has a crush on one-two.

    One scene where we see – sr. bong appraising the gun, he speaks something about alignment in Bangla (though I follow a bit of bengali but could not recall the exact line)- it had word “gando” and oth bro translates for the vendor; it was one of the numerous brilliant lines/shots of the movie. And Tashi – apart from the “tope hamare pass bhi hai”; when Lobo calls, he shots back – “I dont like dogs, i like bitches”.

    Not great art; but can be watched repeatedly.

    Inspector Lele’s offer to raiding police party – 33,33,33,333.33 and he adds “ab to bhaiya bhi nahi rahe”.

  31. The movie was immensely fun. And what an awesome (Guy Ritchiesque?) end!

    But I hated the weird camera angles which give me a sort of motion sickness, though I admit watching the film corner seat, second row at 10.45pm may have been contributing factors.

    I wonder if anyone had the same problem.

  32. @Reshma
    Agree with the review on all counts, but I nod at your motion sickness angle. True: I thought the hand-held shots were overdone, contributing nothing to the film except a certain pace/urgency. (Besides, this whole shaky camera thing has become a staple in the standard Hollywood horror/action flick!)

    That said, some of the shots were class. The running sequences (especially in the rain – reminiscent in some ways of a similar texture in Omkara), the shootout, and the Dhan Te Nan picturisation are all top-grade cinematographic achievements.

  33. Just came back from watching Kaminey. The marketing guys have done it again, sold me a film that i would have caught on the dvd when it came out (legal copy)…tarantino is tarantino because he’s being himself….vishal b being tarantino will always be vishal b being tarantino…where is the smart witty funny dialogue that is so guy ritchie…lock stock was drugs,guns & rock n roll…kaminey was drugs, guns & rock n roll…& what frantic pace of storytelling???…the first half dragged on & on….vishal b’s career has been built on taking an existing script structure & adapting it (maqbool & omkara)…all his original films either end / wrap up too abruptly (makdee) or are just trying to be borderline cute (a sweet girl with an umbrella – pankaj kapoor the only saving grace in the film)….i still say maqbool is his best piece of work…sorry but i think he missed the bus this time trying to be someone he’s not.
    Btw: that hakla singing to speak right was a really funny skit on a show called the great indian comedy show staring ranvir shorey…look for it on youtube if you can.

  34. I watched ‘Kaminey’ three days ago and I think that it was almost note-perfect. I have not been entertained so thoroughly in a long while. Sleek action, wonderful characters, dark humor, a dash of romanticism… a very good film and a whole lot of fun indeed!

  35. - agree – I thought the close-up’s were too close for comfort and too long…a lot of blurry movement really disconnects you from the movie and your mind is racing ahead to watch the next scene.

    to be fair to VB repeating a classic like Maqbool would be very difficult.
    Think RK santoshi after ghayal could never rework that magic..even though Damini and Ghatak were good movies.

    N Chandra after the first 2 or 3 movies went the same way.

    Subhash Ghai extended his run a bit…but he s a gonner now.

    Only exception I recall is Rajkumar Hirani who after Munna 1 did a better munna 2…but still early days …

  36. Comment above,

    Thats priceless. ACs have been in theaters since the 1920s in the world and was not new technology in the 70s. As someone who has seen lived through the 70s I can safely say there were air conditioned halls in India then.

  37. i’m pretty sure Mr. Bharadwaj had “True Romance” at the back of his mind while writing this one.. was pretty decent though..

  38. Hallo Great Bong,
    The movie was sure nice…But don’t you think it still falls behind Johhny Gaddar , which is also from more or less the same genre?I would like to hear your insight on that..Or may be I didnot like the movie as much as JohhnyG as it was a pre dvd rip I saw on Daily Motion..Anyways would like to hear your opinion on Johhny G

  39. Well lets just say Kaminey was like a spiritually a Bollywood Smokin Aces (a good film) while Johhny G was like the Inside Man (as superbly awesome as movies come) of Bolly Land

  40. I saw the movie after your stamp of approval. However, though I loved the 3 Bong Men (underused, massively) and the beginning portion, the movie failed to capture my imagination or attention. And I hated the hand held camera action not to mention the glaring lights for the song Dhan ta na.
    Half of the time it seems the director dint know what to do with his characters, story and leads. And why the blood diamonds?
    I guess when it comes to Hindi movies I shouldnt ask Why.
    Fun movie – maybe, massive fun – no.

  41. This movie and Shahid’s acting is way overrated.Shahid Bhai is neither an actor nor a star,though he must have something which interests Kareena, Priyanka and now Vishal.Hmm…
    The very fact that VB had to concoct different speech impediments for the two brothers is a testament to Shahid’s limitations as an actor.Look what Anil Kapoor has done in the past in movies like Yudh with this kind of premise without any props.
    In the Tope-Bhope scene Shahid bhai completely fades into the scenery,though he keeps mumbling something, as if he is being hidden in the field like Arjuna Ranatunga in a 20-20.

  42. Saw Kaminey last night!! Wow! GB is spot on. This is indeed Pulp Fiction served with bhel puri. Kill Bill served with Masala Muri. Tarantino gone native. There’s even a small tribute to the master in the “Bada Pau” scene with Bhope a… la the “Big Kahuna Burger” breakfast scene in Pulp Fiction. The Majher Jhole swigging AK47 toting deranged Bengali brothers were awesome as well!I am absolutely and utterly impressed.

  43. It was expected of u to say this :

    “the Bangali Dadas who have some of the best lines of the movie, that too in Bangla.”

    specially when they didnt utter more than 10 words in the whole movie.
    Otherwise, the review is nicely written.

  44. Fun movie. Lots of new things. Nice calm review.

    I loved the Mikhail-Charlie physical dosti. It creates a lot of tension, for some it sows doubts of homo eroticism, but I thought that captured how some Indians express emotions. I know many people who are like that in India. Trivial homophobia and calling out no-homo is a very western/urban India sentiment.

  45. What a total piece of crap. A total cut-paste job from Ritchie & Tarantino, embarrassing really. Let’s not even get in to the fact that those guys rip-off films from the 1960s anyway… But why do we Indians feel so comfortable justifying a film by saying it’s “good for India” or “good for Bollywood” – can’t we have higher expectations?

    Just because has made interesting work in the past doesn’t mean this film is special. Let’s see it for what it is: a ripoff, just like sanjay gupta, but done with more style and flourish and lot of hand-held camerawork to cover up a lousy script. We’ll leave Shahid’s blow-dried hair for another post…

  46. Just saw Kaminey on Tata Sky Plus Showcase and I am a bit muddled about the ending. What happened exactly????
    ***spoiler alert**
    how did Fahid survive the bullet? And how did Sh…sh…sh…Shahid and Priyanka escape the inferno that was Bhope’s fortress earlier??

    My wild guess(at the risk of being labeled a movie-geek-who-reads-Hollywood-movie-forums-a-lot ) is that all that they showed in the end was Faheed’s dying thoughts, and were part of a dream . Two reasons why I think so :-
    1) the happy ending was shown rather abruptly, i.e they didn’t tell how the good(relatively) guys survived the inferno, while the others were cooked in a tandoor.
    2) the Fophia girl is shown at beginning of movie also which is supposed to be a recurrent Fahid Kapoor dream throughout the film.The film is too dark to have a happy ending.

    Anyways all the above crap is not my brainchild , I read a similar thing about the cult De Niro film – Taxi Driver , where the happy ending shown in the end is suspected as being his dying thoughts by certain film geeks.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxi_Driver#Interpretations_of_the_ending)

  47. Ameya,

    Of all the reviewers, you are the most perceptive. You are bang on target in interpreting the climax. I too came to the same conclusion about Charlie’s fate in the movie. I agree with you completely that Charlie did not survive the gun shot. The happy ending scene was his dying dream. Not many people got it. I am sure Vishal Bhardwaj himself will confirm this in the future.

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