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September 20, 2009

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Movie Review – Kaminey (2009)

by HELEN GEIB

Kaminey stars Shahid Kapur in a dual role as twin brothers Guddu and Charlie. When the film opens the brothers are bitterly estranged and have not seen each other for several years. Each also has his own problems, largely of his own making. As each brother is unwillingly drawn back into the other’s life it becomes increasingly clear that events are conspiring in mysterious ways to bring about a family reunion.

Guddu is in the middle of a shotgun wedding to his girlfriend Sweety (Priyanka Chopra) when her brother’s goons interrupt. The shotgun in their case isn’t family pressure but their own fear of breaking a social taboo. In fact, the head of the woman’s family not only doesn’t want them to get married, he’d actually prefer to see the groom dead- and the bride married to a businessman’s son as a trade for political favors.

Charlie meanwhile is working for three crazy, and I mean crazy brothers in the business of fixing the horse races they make book on. When he stumbles on a shipment of cocaine, the lure of easy money brings out his own inner lunatic.

The film really builds up the estrangement. Guddu and Charlie are way beyond not on speaking terms; they use phrases like “harbinger of doom” and “root of all evil” to describe each other to their various pursuers. However, what we see of the men doesn’t square with their expressions of mutual loathing. Guddu obviously wouldn’t hurt a fly and while Charlie’s employers seem capable of anything, he’s just a flunky in the (relatively speaking) respectable criminal enterprise of bookmaking. The kicker: The teased-out before being finally revealed circumstances behind the estrangement are so totally inadequate as an explanation of the bad feeling in their relationship– and so easily resolved as a problem– as to be laughable.

I thought I’d get that criticism out of the way up front because aside from it, I have only good things to say. Kaminey is a very entertaining movie. It’s fast-moving, well-acted, sometimes funny and sometimes exciting, unexpected, and always heartfelt.

Picture a stereotypical Bollywood movie, and then imagine a movie that aggressively works against that image. To begin with, Kaminey is pretty clearly writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj’s answer to Slumdog Millionaire, and not just in the one good, one bad (but not really bad) estranged brothers storyline. The wild coincidences underlying Guddu and Charlie’s reconciliation story may be fanciful, but that story plays out against a backdrop of real-world social issues: poverty, crime, influence peddling and widespread police corruption, drug use. Although they themselves were born in Mumbai, Guddu and Charlie face discrimination because their father came to the city from another of the Indian states. Guddu works for an NGO that distributes condoms as part of an anti-AIDS campaign, for goodness sake.

The film has a gritty visual aesthetic worlds removed from the gloss of the studio product. I don’t know if Kaminey was filmed almost entirely on location in real-people-live-here parts of Mumbai, but it certainly manages to look like it was (the principal exception being scenes set on a drug lord’s estate, and even those are plausible). The cinematography makes frequent use of source lighting. Costuming, set design, and the casting in the supporting parts carry forward the film’s embrace of physical realism.

There are two quasi-musical numbers, both contextualized in the interests of realism. The first is a street theater performance by Guddu’s NGO that plays under the opening credits, which hardly counts. The second is set on the dance floor of a club, but the camerawork and editing do most of the dancing.

In fact, the camera is often on the move chasing the brothers– sometimes literally chasing Charlie through the streets- as they run into and out of trouble. The editing energizes the film in key sequences, culminating in a climax where everyone, and I mean everyone converges for a spectacular firefight.

3 stars


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. mike
    Sep 20 2009

    I liked Kaminey myself- not perfect or anything, but well done, and a good change of pace from most of the Bollywood movies I have seen.

  2. miriam
    Sep 21 2009

    This is a very entertaining movie. The sentimentality is kept to a more tolerable level than I’ve seen (admittedly a small sample) in Indian films. I liked, too, the frank depiction of graft and corruption in law enforcement and politics. Sweety’s brother is amazing/appalling.

  3. Helen
    Sep 22 2009

    Definitely a deliberate attempt by Bhardwaj to work against Bollywood conventions while staying populist. Interestingly the film was made within the studio system and Kapur is an up and coming Bollywood star.

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