Five movies, five gems. There seems to be much in Vishal Bhardwaj's pouch that is yet to come.

Kaminey (Rascals/Scoundrels) is Vishal Bhardwaj’s first movie after achieving commercial success. Most directors usually tend to lose their footing amidst big budgets, bigger stars and bloating stardom. The good ones learn to adjust, and continue making movies their way, taking advantage of the extra resources at their disposal. Bhardwaj does just that. With all the anticipation, popularity and pre-release success already associated with Kaminey, he nonetheless delivers an astounding movie that stays with its eccentric characters and the situations they find themselves in.

Guddu and Charlie (Shahid Kapoor in a double-role) are twins. One stammers while the other has a lisp. Estranged after their father’s death, Guddu chooses to fit in to the normalcy of everyday middle-class life while Charlie takes the get-rich-quick path of betting at horse-racing, dreaming to one-day own his own betting booth. When one gets involved with a gangster’s sister and the other runs head-first into a multi-million drug deal, their lives spin out of control as anybody & everybody get involved in a mess of personal gains.

Bhardwaj drapes the movie in the dirty colors of Mumbai’s slums. Like for the people who live there, the world around the characters becomes a de-facto background, never being focused on. Taking a cue from Tarantino, Kaminey is aware of the audience’s knowledge of this world, and works with it. DoP Tassaduq Hussain, bringing in his experience of gritty realism from Omkara, mixes escapism into the visuals using shots that lack the clarity of crisp focus. Going mostly hand-held, we rarely see scenes from a setup point-of-view, instead observing them like an onlooker in this over-populated city where witnesses abound but hardly exist. A foot-chase sequence is seen in cuts from one place to another, a shoot-out is seen in short scenes from within. Hussain drops and raises the camera often for a vantage point, adding to the absurdity of the situations. Vishal Bhardwaj, being the music director too, underlines the story with a passionate score that, as in the mentioned foot-chase scene, works for its devoted indulgence.

Bhardwaj’s biggest achievement in Kaminey, though, is the set of characters he creates to populate the story. Essentially scoundrels, they retain a quirkiness that brings subtle humor to the fore-front of the bloody chaos that the movie displays. Amongst them, upping the slime-ratio, are three eccentricities: Bhope, Mikhail and Tashi, each living a violent but separate life until they collide. All three are played by débutante or relatively unknown actors. Infact, although a mainstream feature, the cast comprises of only two recognizable faces. The others, undoubtedly taking cue from the locked script, turn in performances that match the confidence of this maverick director. At one point, when two of the power-drunk gangsters face off, their arrogant words are absurdly accompanied with laughter. Yet, the brilliance of the scene comes from the tipping imbalance between a gun-shot, the one-upmanship and their ability to laugh through it all. Shahid Kapoor, in his most accomplished performance yet, shines as Charlie. In contrast to the meek and stuttering Guddu, he plays Charlie as a smart street dog that is only interested in his piece of bone. That is, until a larger one drops on his lap. The visual allegory of Charlie as a race-horse works as a master-stroke, not just symbolizing where his dream lies, but also what Charlie himself has become in the scheme of things. And as the brothers’ lives intertwine, Bhardwaj drives the movie to a cinematic climax that is not as much a surprise in predictability as it is in execution.

Five movies, five gems. There seems to be much in Vishal Bhardwaj’s pouch that is yet to come. From children’s films to Shakespearean adaptations, rural living to urban gangsters, he seems to be exploring his own zenith. With Kaminey, he triumphs in they ability to merge sensibilities of non-conventional, art-house cinema with commercial Bollywood masala. What will he explore next? Give him another well-deserved solid pat on the back, and sit back, again waiting for his next release.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.