Film review: Kaalakaandi
A self-assured, clean-living man is told he has months to live. It’s the eve of his brother’s wedding, a drenched day in Mumbai. Saif Ali Khan walks into his home with stooped shoulders, unable to share the shock and horror of his fate with his family, which is buzzing with wedding madness. One of the quirks of the script is that Khan’s character’s name remains unknown till almost the end. This man decides that with little time left on the clock, it’s time for to let go and live a little. Most of his experiences on this night happen after he “drops” a red star and enters a psychedelic world where he is fearless (I was reminded of the 2011 Bradley Cooper film Limitless, where a writer uses a psychotropic drug to enhance his abilities.)
Somewhere else the same night, a young couple is planning to drop into a party before the boyfriend (Kunaal Roy Kapur) bids farewell to his girlfriend (Shobita Dhulipala) who is headed to the US to do her PhD. But the cops conduct a drug bust and chaos ensues.
In the underbelly of Mumbai, two henchmen (Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz) are picking up bags of cash to be deposited with their gangster boss. En route they banter and hatch a get-rich-quick plan of their own.
Writer-director Akshat Verma’s screenplay has an episodic structure, of the sort best demonstrated in Amores Perros. But his characters are mostly cookie-cutter stereotypes. Dobriyal gives an outstanding performance, and gets a sharp sparring partner in Raaz, which gives their scenes some frisson. These small-time crooks are fascinated by the mythology surrounding a larger-than-life shooter called Omlette.
Neil Bhoopalam is dressed like a cowboy and given two meaningless scenes. This is the least interesting track in the three-story interplay. The second one about a girl with a conscience and her earnest boyfriend is the most dramatic and also has a wonderful ensemble of performances, including one by Shenaz Treasury that’s right on the button.
Through all of this, Khan is driving Angad (Akshay Oberoi), the groom-to-be, around the city. His trip kicks in just as he encounters trans-person-of-the-night Sheela. Verma’s writing peaks in the scenes between Sheela (Nary Singh) and Khan’s high-as-a-kite character. The maturity and mutual respect, not to mention a brilliant scene in the bathroom, truly pushes the envelope, which you expect more of from the writer of the outrageous Delhi Belly.
A recurring gag is one that takes clear potshots at the police. 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. Verma’s shows the cops in all their ridiculous glory—overweight, absurd, twisted, corrupt.
Oberoi’s Angad is just an immature man, tempted into a hotel bedroom for a fling. It’s a stupid scene that is dispensable and poorly performed. Many tangential characters—like a wedding photographer, Angad’s ex-girlfriend, a gangster—hover around and a whole lot is packed into one evening. As a result the most interesting character—a dying man who is internalising his anguish at discovering he has just months to live—is shortchanged. You wish his story had been explored further because, besides Khan’s character, the others are not imaginatively rendered, though even Khan’s dying man stops short of being genre-defining audacious.
Khan revels in this kind of role—with quick, glib lines, slipping between English and Hindi, with a slight craziness and irreverence. Even though Khan’s “trip” is a bit in and out (in between imagining beautiful absurdities, he has serious conversations), he is as convincing when he sees flying dolphins through the car window as he is as a man coming to terms with premature mortality. The supporting cast look and act the part, with Dobriyal and Raaz a cut above the rest.
There are many first film issues with Kaalakaandi: it is technically inconsistent and the narrative doesn’t quite pull together. 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.
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