Kaalakaandi movie review: Saif Ali Khan is funny as hell but the film lacks fizz
Despite Saif Ali Khan being in cracking form, Kaalakaandi lacks fizz and purpose.
castSaif Ali Khan, Akshay Oberoi, Isha Talwar, Sobhita Dhulipala, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Shenaz Treasury, Vijay Raaz, Deepak Dobriyal, Amyra Dastur, Neil Bhoopalam
When the writer of Delhi Belly announces his intent to direct, obviously there is reason enough to sit up and take notice.
That film – released seven long years back, produced by Aamir Khan and directed by Abhinay Deo – was an excellent black comedy that pushed the envelope in the genre more than most Bollywood filmmakers had for decades before that or have since. Its writing, direction and casting were in sync with each other. Kaalakaandi gets one element right: its cast. But though Saif Ali Khan is funny as hell here and several of his talented co-stars show spark, the writing does not give any of them enough substance to bite into and the film does not fully take off at any point.
Khan plays a man who has just discovered that he has stomach cancer and barely a few months to live. He is shocked at the diagnosis because he has lived what he considers a clean and healthy life. Read: no smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no fooling around. Since his family is celebrating a wedding when the doctor breaks the news to him, he decides to keep it to himself but also to live it up since he now has nothing to lose. His bizarre transformation confuses the groom (Akshay Oberoi) who, in any case, is coping with his own set of problems arising from pre-marital heebie-jeebies.
In the same city lives a young couple on the verge of parting ways since she (Sobhita Dhulipala) is leaving him (Kunaal Roy Kapur) while she heads off to the US for a PhD. With just hours to go for her flight they attend the birthday party of a close friend (played with aplomb by Shenaz Treasury).
What seems like light years away from their swish lifestyles, a notorious gangster’s sidekicks (Vijay Raaz and Deepak Dobriyal) are dealing with dilemmas of their own.
During the course of the film, the paths of these disparate characters cross in the most fleeting fashion, resulting in dramatic consequences for all of them.
Kaalakaandi (which, I have learnt from one of Khan’s pre-release interviews, means “gadbad” or “everything going wrong") is about karma taking over as we make other plans and the importance of occasionally surrendering to fate. The film is set in Mumbai and about two-thirds of its dialogues are in English, a choice that is well suited to the milieus it inhabits. Verma has an interesting enough concept in place here and has picked just the right bunch of artistes to get where he wants to go. The opening half hour offers plenty of Saif-Ali-Khan-induced laughter and zaniness to hold out the promise of more to come.
Sadly, the rest of the film does not live up to this potential, since it is neither madcap enough nor pacey enough nor raunchy enough nor witty enough nor shocking enough nor clever enough nor gutsy enough nor experimental enough to have the effect that it seems to be aiming for.
Verma’s inability to flesh out his basic idea for Kaalakaandi is particularly unfortunate because Khan is in his element here.
In film after film, this actor has shown that he has the chops to pull off pretty much every genre, but his industry is not offering him projects to match. He was sweetly likeable in Chef last year and beautifully melded amorality with heart in Rangoon just months earlier. In Kaalakaandi, he lets his hair down wonderfully as he descends into nuttiness, but the script is too frail to give him the space to spread his wings.
That said, the writing of the thread about his character is the only one with the substance and life to keep this film going. The highlight of Kaalakaandi is his encounter with a transgender sex worker played by a luminous Nary Singh. The easy blend of light-heartedness and poignance in their interaction marks an important milestone for the portrayal of the trans community by Bollywood.
In the sensitivity Verma seemingly effortlessly combines with humour in that one episode, he proves that he has what it takes to be a director. If only he had spent more time on his script, it may have occurred to him that the strand involving Khan could have been a standalone venture.
The rest of Kaalakaandi is dead before it takes birth. Getting Oberoi to say “fuck” a few times, infusing Raaz and Dobriyal’s segment with ma-behen abuses, showing a naked woman covered in a sheet and throwing her lingerie at a horny lover or injecting a heavy dose of drugs into the plot doth not a black comedy make.
Each member of the cast has provided ample evidence of being a gifted performer in earlier works. Vijay Raaz was the heart and soul of Delhi Belly and Kunaal Roy Kapur was a hoot in the same film. We know from the Tanu Weds Manu films that Deepak Dobriyal is a killer comic. The good-looking Akshay Oberoi is just emerging from the brilliance of Gurgaon last year. Sobhita Dhulipala – who is a hottie – made a smashing debut in Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 in 2016. Yet in Kaalakaandi, when they are occasionally engaging, it feels more like a factor of their natural charisma than the writing of their respective characters. And then there is the usually exceptional Neil Bhoopalam who has zero impact in a pointless cameo here.
Besides, the timeline is inexplicable. The events in Kaalakaandi happen over one night, yet everything seems to take much longer than it possibly could in reality. The young couple, for instance, pack so much into the two hours before her flight that you have to wonder what clock they are operating on. This loose writing deprives the film of the compactness it should have had considering that its 111 minutes and 54 seconds is far less than the average Bollywood length.
It is hard to believe that a film directed by the writer of Delhi Belly is, for the most part, a drag. Despite Saif Ali Khan being in cracking form, Kaalakaandi lacks fizz and purpose.
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