Kuttey Review: A pulpy but flat caper
Aasmaan Bhardwaj’s debut feature never becomes the film that it aspired to.
Director: Aasmaan Bhardwaj
Writers: Aasmaan Bhardwaj, Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Tabu, Arjun Kapoor, Kumud Mishra, Radhika Madan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Shardul Bhardwaj, Naseeruddin Shah
Released in cinemas.
Caper as a genre is difficult to get right. What looks great as an idea might turn out to be a disappointment when stretched to a feature-length film. Unfortunately, that is the case with Aasmaan Bhardwaj’s Kuttey. I was so looking forward to watching this film. The debutante director will be cruelly compared with his genius filmmaker-musician father who is also the co-writer of this film. If somebody else had made this same film, it wouldn’t have mattered for anyone to compare.
I don’t have a problem with a filmmaker giving homage to his influences. The filmmakers who have influenced me are the ones who have often paid homages to their heroes. Aasmaan starts off Kuttey with a Tarantino-style blood splash action sequence. That sequence telling the story of a Naxalite (Konkona Sen Sharma) is done well. Konkona’s Lakshmi is the first of the Kuttey (dogs) we see. In jail, in the remote Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra. Sharing the screen space with her in that scene is another dog called Paaji (Kumud Mishra). Mishra is the only one among the cast with some sort of a moral compass.
Also read: Aasmaan Bhardwaj’s heartfelt conversation about making Kuttey and Vishal Bhardwaj’s advice to him
The action cuts to 13 years later to 2016. Paaji along with his younger colleague Gopal (Arjun Kapoor) abide by the law and break it at their convenience. There’s their senior, ACP Poonam Sandhu (Tabu), a corrupt, trash-talker cop. This part was earlier written as a male cop. I never thought that I would write this sentence ever but Tabu awkwardly struggles to pull off the swagger of that character. In the first half, she seems uneasy in mouthing a rather unnecessary fable of a scorpion and a frog and reasoning “there are no ‘real men’ in the world” behind her not getting married.
Naseeruddin Shah plays a wheelchaired politician/don Khobre. Radhika Madan plays his daughter Lovely. You can’t help but be reminded of Bhope Bhau (Amole Gupte) and his sister Sweety (Priyanka Chopra) from Kaminey (2009) directed by Vishal Bhardwaj. Lovely wants to elope with her father’s henchman Danish (Shardul Bharadwaj). There’s an unnecessary romantic lovemaking song sequence in a car that completely pulls you out of the movie.
The first half is rather flat. There’s always a point in a film where a film ‘kicks in’. That happens in the second half of the film in the chapter Moong Ki Daal. I liked the chapter-wise storytelling. If you have watched enough capers, you’d know the structural tropes the filmmaker will use. Then, in the climax all hell will break loose and there might be a Mexican standoff. 13 years later, Konkona with her Naxalite group magically arrives in the Khandala region of Maharashtra which lies between two metro cities Pune and Mumbai. That angle seemed forced just so that they could all be pitted against each other.
Also read: Victor Mukherjee: “Lakadbaggha is my ode to believing in good”
Generally, in such capers, the narrative is driven by the plot. Seldom do you see a character-driven caper. Referencing Kaminey here not to compare but to give you a reference. And also, because Kuttey uses the pulsating Dhan Te Nan from Kaminey as its background score quite often. Every character from that film had its own space and identity. In Kuttey, only Gopal gets some kind of a backstory or a sub-plot if you may. None of the characters stay with you nor do you feel invested in any of them.
The film is ambitious in the setting that it is placed in. There’s night, there’s rain, and there’s action in the night and rain. It is a Hercules task to pull off. The film succeeds for the most part in that endeavor. But there are a couple of glaring continuity errors. The VFX work of people getting shot and blood bursting out should have been done better. It was rather a sad feeling when every time the Dhan Te Nan tune played in Kuttey, I thought of Kaminey. I did everything possible to watch that film in the theatre during a massive wave of swine flu in 2009.
It would be silly to say that the film has a Vishal Bhardwaj effect. Of course, it will be there. The dialogue and additional screenplay are written by him. He has also scored the music and co-produced the film. It is unfair to compare the father and son. Bhardwaj Jr’s film looks like a showreel of what he aspired to do with his debut. It never becomes the film that he must have set out to do. Having said that, it would be interesting to see what he makes next.