Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Deepak Dobriyal, Vijay Raaz, Akshay Oberoi, Shobita Dhulipala, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Shenaz Treasurywala, Nary Singh
Kaalakaandi in Marathi slang means a situation gone terribly wrong and Akshat Verma has aptly titled his directorial debut featuring a night of things taking drastic turns for many in the frame. If described in simplest of terms, Kaalakaandi is an easy “psychedelic” watch with little to dislike. The entire film, its four narratives and many sub-plots unfold in just one night in the city of Bombay and even though disparate, the makers have tried to prevail the theory of life, death and karma in four of them.
There’s a “good” man, who has never smoked, never got drunk and never tried drugs, and now he’s been diagnosed with an extreme case of stomach cancer on the eve of his brother’s nuptials. While he’s comprehending on how it happened, the doctor tells him that he doesn’t have enough time left. On realising that his life is coming to an end, a visibly disturbed Saif walks to his “shaadi waala ghar” where the entire family is in celebratory mood. He keeps his secret to himself and decides to let go and live a little that night. After taking his first ever drag of a cigarette, Saif is quick to ask his cousin, “Aur kya hai?”. He soon “drops” a “red star” psychedelic and is unaware of the adventures that await him. The beauty of his character and perhaps Verma’s writing is that Saif’s character remains nameless until almost towards the end of the film, which perhaps is a testimony to a scene that unfolds later in the picture that it might just be “another name to be forgotten.” Meanwhile, his cousin and the would-be-groom Angad (Akshay Oberoi) receives a call from his ex-girlfriend and falls prey to a possibility of cheating on his fiancée with Saif driving him around the city during after-hours.
Somewhere else in Bombay, in a cozy abode, a boyfriend (Kunaal Roy Kapur) is mustering up to accept that his “hot” girlfriend (Shobhita 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 a friend’s (Shehnaz Treasury) birthday. 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. And somewhere else in the dingy streets of underbelly Bombay, two henchmen Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz are executing a theft for their gangster boss but on their way and amid their abusively funny banters, they devise a plan to keep the money to themselves.
While there just might be four narratives on the surface, each narrative has its own set of extra characters and their stories. Like Saif, 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. The “ladies restroom” scene is in fact one of the key highlights of the film.
Then there’s a 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 realise certain things or the Shehnaz’s young “sex-slave” who doesn’t have much to do in the film or the gangster boss, who knows when to call a bluff. Or not.
Saif shines in the film and delivers an effortless performance safely transitioning from Hindi to English honing his quirky best. His expressions as he tries to make peace with the unexpected death call and the unwavering magical impact of the “red star” are priceless. These are the moments his contentment and complexities exist in the same frame and truly thrive. Every other character deliver their part with Nary, Dhulipala, Dobriyal and Raaz taking the cake.
Bombay is as much a character in the film as the rest. Through characters’ lenses, one sees different shades of the Indian cinema’s muse city coming to life. Plus, a constant real joke that runs throughout is the timing and attitude of Bombay police- of them busting a party to check on drugs is a priority but dismissing a hit and run case without batting an eye lid comes easy.
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.
Verma, who has been associated to the 2011-film Delhi Belly keeps the flavour but doesn’t deliver as good a film as that . The film is short and crisp but not crisp enough to justify the large number of characters and potential stories that makers have tried to deal with. Certain doubts will cling to you as you leave the theatre but none of it actually makes the film an unbearable watch. In fact, if you’re looking forward to a “chill” watch this weekend with no baggage, I mean extra baggage, to leave the theatre with and to watch Saif in his element, Kaalakaandi just might be it.