Banners: Cinestaan Film Company, Flying Unicorn Entertainment
Producers: Rohit Khattar, Ashi Dua
Director: Akshat Verma
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Oberoi, Deepak Dobriyal, Vijay Raaz, Shobhita, Dhulipala, Kunaal Roy Kapoor, Isha, Talwar, Shenaz Treasury, Nary Singh
Writer: Akshat Verma
Music: Sameer Uddin
Opening the box office for 2018 with a bang is a barrage of movies, among them, probably the most-awaited of them all, Kaalakaandi. The black comedy had been stuck with the censors for a while but it has finally hit cinemas.
The directorial debut of the Delhi Belly writer, Akshat Verma, follows his noir style of writing even as it balances the three stories it revolves around.
The first story is about a smart, successful executive (Saif Ali Khan), who finds out that a suspected ulcer is actually last-stage stomach cancer. He curses himself for being a straight-laced, white-collar guy and decides to explore the dark side, now that he has only a few months to live. He starts drinking and smoking but not before getting high on LSD. While on a drive with his brother Angad (Akshay Oberoi), who is about to get married, the drug hits him and he sees the world like never before.
The second story talks about a young girl (Shobhita Dhulipala), who is packing to go to the US for higher studies even as her boyfriend, Zubin (Kunaal Roy Kapoor), cribs about missing her while wearing her underwear on his head, for some strange reason. The couple then goes to a club for a birthday celebration, on the same night as the girl’s flight. However, the police raids the club in search of drugs. The girl, tense about catching her flight, manages to get away from the cops and while driving back, gets involved in a hit-and-run accident. Convinced by everyone in the car to leave the mess and fly to the US, she enters the airport while realising just how supportive her boyfriend has been.
The final tale revolves around two low-level thugs, who pick up and deliver huge amounts of cash for a gangster. The senior of the two thugs, Rehmat bhai (Vijay Raaz), tells his partner that he wants to steal some of the money from his boss. The younger one, (Deepak Dobriyal), comes up with a better plan, which involves some sly play. A lot trickery and maneuvering later, when the junior thug is enjoying the Mumbai rain and his victory, his recent sins catch up with him in a way that will make you laugh out loud.
How these three stories play out individually and how they eventually connect is what the movie is all about.
Verma skillfully uses dark humour in some scenes. The part where Saif’s character compares the police constable to a pregnant lady, or the banter in the hotel between Vijay Raaz and Deepak Dobriyal, are some highlights of the film.
Several taboo subjects have been picked up in the stories, which will resonate with the niche audience that the film targets. Credit should be given to the debutant filmmaker for treating the bold subject of an encounter with a transvestite with the right dose of fun. He also masterfully treats the sensitive subject of narcotic drugs, neither promoting them in the film nor condemning them. This is quite progressive for a Bollywood film.
Verma also makes sure that the face of his multi-cast film, Saif Ali Khan, played the role that is sketched best. The part was well written with all the trimmings of comedy, emotion, strong dialogue and powerful acting. Khan and his story, which has the sub-plot of his brother, dominate the film, especially in the first half. The hilarity of the situations in their story will make the audience wish that the focus stayed on them that much longer.
While the screen space is somewhat equal, the quality of the characters is not the same. The potential and expertise of strong performers like Kunaal Roy Kapoor, Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz could have been a gold mine for this dark comedy but they weren’t adequately utilised.
The songs in the film are few and far between and blend with the story without you even noticing the track playing in the background. Editing is crisp as the narrative jumps from one plot to another while maintaining the connection between the three stories.
Akshat Verma wanted to bring out a different side of Mumbai, which is tripping on drugs and connected to crime, but he does not manage to make it edgy enough. The screenplay may look strong on paper but the execution falls short, especially after a hit like Delhi Belly.
Performance-wise, Saif Ali Khan’s no-name avatar is the soul of the film. The actor, after some disappointing movies in the recent past, has proved his potential with this out-of-the-box performance. Akshay Oberoi is decent. Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz do justice to their parts. Shobita Dhulipala is good. Kunaal Roy Kapoor is average. Nary Singh delivers a fabulous performance. Isha Talwar is good while Shenaz Treasury is average. Neil Bhoopalam puts in a blink-and-miss appearance.
Verdict: Definitely hits the mark with its target audience.