“Kaalakaandi”… A profanity-laced trip that’s hard to give an eff about

Posted on January 19, 2018

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Spoilers ahead…

Akshat Verma’s Kaalakaandi begins with a man, Rileen (Saif Ali Khan), who discovers he has stomach cancer. He’s stunned by the diagnosis, delivered to him by a doctor who gives one of the film’s many, many off performances. But Saif is fantastic. Rileen doesn’t smoke. He likes broccoli. “I’m a good person, you know?” he says, eyes welling up. Soon, he decides he’s going to be a bad person, and he begins by popping a red, star-shaped LSD tablet. In the Matrix movies, the red pill is a brutal wake-up call to reality. Here, it’s the opposite. Rileen wants to slip into a fantasy world, wish it all away. The premise of a straitjacketed man cutting loose isn’t new, and it has potential. But Verma has other ideas. He makes this one of the many stories he wants to set in a rainy night in Mumbai.

The other stories have to do with Angad (Akshay Oberoi), who’s getting married; two crooks (Deepak Dobriyal, Vijay Raaz) out to double-cross their boss; and a couple (Sobhita Dhulipala, Kunaal Roy Kapur) on the verge of a temporary separation, given that she is off to the US for her PhD. (Given the boyfriend’s penchant to recycle tired, sitcom-style wannabe-zingers, it wouldn’t surprise me if she desired a more permanent relocation. Sample “joke” about her thong: “This is not underwear. This is dental floss.”) They all have one thing in common, other than being in this leadenly written and directed movie: none of them has an answer to the question, “Why should we give a fuck?”

The expletive is intentional. Verma is the writer responsible for Delhi Belly, but the scatological humour that was so brilliantly organic in that film comes off, here, like a juvenile attempt to shock and awe. Take a look at the Wiki entries for the names of the characters: “Isha Talwar as Rekha ki maa ka,” “Deepak Dobriyal as Ranndi,” “Vijay Raaz as Chutiya…” The first conversation the Akshay Oberoi character has, over the phone, yields the words “penis,” “vagina,” and “G-spot.” Two grown-ups discuss a future date in terms of “first base” and “second base.” It’s excruciating — though the audience in the theatre laughed every single time a word like “chutiyapa” came up. Every single time. The entire film could have been a series of swear words and they might have found it funny.

I wondered, briefly, if it was an age thing. Had I been in my twenties, would I have laughed along as well? I don’t think so. Rileen looks to be in his forties, and when the doctor hands down that fatal pronouncement, he says, “I’m going to jack off until my dick falls off.” It feels fake. One of his bucket-list items is to see the “southern hemisphere” of a transgender (he catches hold of a sex worker played by Nyari Singh), and that’s the only subplot that works. Watching her walk away at the end, with firefly-like lights emanating from her shimmery dress (Rileen is on LSD, remember?), we glimpse what the film could have been. The other trippy effects (a man turns into a clown-face, dolphins leap about on streets) are overdone — and topped only by the screenplay’s forays into dime-store existentialism. Kaalakaandi made me wonder if Delhi Belly might be another instance of the famed “Aamir Khan touch,” where people who make good-to-great films under his aegis end up bombing outside. Now, that’s worth a  fucking thought.

Copyright ©2018 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi