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Kuttey Movie Review: All Bark, No Bite

Tabu and Arjun Kapoor impress but Aasmaan Bhardwaj’s unimaginative debut lacks the punch

Director: Aasmaan Bhardwaj
Writers: Aasmaan Bhardwaj and Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Tabu, Arjun Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Radhika Madan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kumud Mishra
and Shardul Bhardwaj
Rating: 2.5/5

Two corrupt police officials, Gopal (Arjun Kapoor) and Paaji (Kumud Mishra), are working hand-in-glove with the local drug lord. They are paid by the boss of the rival gang, Narayan Khobre, (Naseeruddin Shah) to bump off the competition. This assignment lands the duo in trouble; they need to bribe their seniors to avoid a possible suspension order. It’s a huge amount and the only way they could come up with is to rob a van stuffed with ATM money. But unbeknownst to each other they hatch separate plans and find a separate bunch of comrades. While Gopal goes solo, Paaji teams up with the no-nonsense senior cop, Pammi. Later on in the story, Khobre’s daughter Lovely (Radhika Madan) and her lover Danny (Shardul Bhardwaj) are also thrown into the mix. There is also Sonia Soni Raina, the leader of a rag-tag army of insurgents, who clashes with them. All these kuttey’s are after the money.

Arjun Kapoor is earnest, Tabu is kick-ass as always, Naseeruddin Shah is splendid even in his brief appearance, Radhika Madan is good if a tad repetitive, and Kumud Mishra is effective, however, Konkona even with her searing eyes fails to sound convincing. With such a cast one would expect Kuttey to be a movie worth spending money on. But this paiso ka khel is not a paisa-vasool entertainment.

It is a ‘dog eats dog world’ that reminds one of Dogville (the movie is even broken into chapters, replete with a prologue and an epilogue like the Lars von Trier movie), Kuttey, can also be regarded as a tribute to Reservoir Dogs (like Quentin Tarantino, Aasmaan even makes an on-screen appearance but… however, more than Tarantino, Arjun’s ‘death defying’ act kept reminding me of Mihir Virani of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi). The film is replete with Tarantinoesque shoot sequences. There is an attempt at a Coenesque dark and wry humor. Like in the films of the Coen Brothers, the characters in Kuttey scheme and plot, but it is fate that like a ‘Drunken Driver’ crashes into those—it is wanton and random, it might hit you or miss you, and leave you wondering, as the oft-repeated dialogue in Kuttey: Iska logic kya thha bhai? But, cinema is not just about hat-tips and sowing together cool, inspired set pieces. Making a good film should require a bit more than watching good cinema. What is missing in Kuttey is the soul. The story is painfully unimaginative. Even with a robust dose of guns, drugs, cuss words, and sex, at a runtime below 2-hour Kuttey fails to come close to the gripping thriller it promises to be. Also, the use of the fables—the first story is too long and meandering and the second one is the same frog and scorpion story that we recently also heard in Darlings-– to justify the atrocious actions of this motley bunch doesn’t really work. It is neither innovative nor fun. The (clichéd) prologue and the (muddled) epilogue are the better bits of the story.

Unlike a Vishal Bhardwaj or an Anurag Kashyap movie, Kuttey seems forced, gimmicky, and at its best, performative, and not emanating from a place of honesty and earnestness. Instead of their heady concoction mitti-ki-khushbu mixed with the smell of blood and sweat, here is a store-bought fancy bottle of perfume that is artificially trying to replicate it inside a sanitized lab. What is also bizarre is that makers try to force fit a Hindi heartland aesthetic in the heart of Mumbai (also, one wonders how and why a Naxalite insurgency group is randomly marching through the forests of Mumbai… Iska logic kya thha bhai?).

It seems blasphemous to compare Kuttey with the cinema of Vishal Bhardwaj. In fact, it is exactly what Bhardwaj’s cinema is not and what makes his movies so poignant and refreshing (Why we are comparing the father with the son? Because Aasmaan is marketed as Vishal’s son, the film is marketed as the film made by the son of Vishal Bhardwaj…you can’t opt for such a promotion tactic and then call out critics for the comparisons, can’t have your cake and eat it).

The most distinct and disappointing departure is the treatment of women. While the nuanced and layered characters played by Konkana Sen Sharma in Omkara and Tabu in Maqbool and Haider, as well as those by Priyanka Chopra in Kaminey and 7 Khoon Maaf, made Vishal’s movies such delicious watch, in Aasmaan’s hands the women are mostly seen from a distinct male gaze and serve the purpose of adding sex and violence, which add absolutely nothing the story. Although the characters start off strong, they eventually are just reduced to props to help and aid the hero’s journey.

Although Tabu gives a powerful performance, writing-wise, Tabu’s ‘madam sir’ is not a patch on Shefali Shah’s madam sir in Delhi Crime. In fact, when she justifies her last act with the fact that it is in her ‘character’, one wonders why the writers didn’t bother to build the character first. Is logic ka logic kya thha bhai?

There is nothing that she does in the rest of the film that justifies the scene. Yes, it is a cool dialogue, but that’s that. There is an attempt to establish her character as someone ruthless sans any maternal instinct. There is a scene that echoes Lady Macbeth (a character she aces in Maqbool) soliloquy: “Unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe topful Of direst cruelty!”. But the writers don’t take it anywhere from there.

Konkona as Sonia ‘Soni’ Raina is brutally raped at the police station, and right after the scene her troupe members storm the station and free her. It seems they were just waiting for the ‘rape of a naxalite woman by police’ story to get ticked. There is no relevance of this rape found in the entire story that then unfolds making one wonder the reason behind the perfunctory inclusion of such a graphic scene except for a completely gratuitous one. At some point, we need to stop putting women characters through rape and violence simply for effect. Radhika Madan is the chosen one for the raw sex scenes that have become the easiest and probably the only way to establish a ‘fiery independent woman trying to take control of the narrative of her life’ on screen these days.

However, interestingly and ironically, the movie can be best summed up with a quote from Shakespeare; the bard Vishal Bhardwaj is so adept at adapting: It “is a tale … full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

Conclusion

Kuttey is no Kaminey and fails to do Dhan Te Nan at your heartstrings. The Coenesque thriller with powerful performances by the lead cast ticks all the boxes of ‘cool cinema’—the non-linear narrative broken into chapters, blood-soaked thriller unfolding in rain-lashed nights, adequate use of cuss words, brutal rape and raw sex scenes (and use of words like ‘sambhog’), and of course the ritualistic top angle shots—but still falls short of packing a punch.

When a movie with writing credit of Vishal Bhardwaj and an ensemble cast boasting names like Tabu, Arjun Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Radhika Madan, Konkona Sen Sharma, and Kumud Mishra fails to impress, you are made to wonder about the potentials of the director. Not many 27-year-olds can even dream of getting such an opportunity. But it seems Bhardwaj junior (even the Wikipedia page of the movie introduces the director as Vishal Bhardwaj’s son, Aasmaan Bhardwaj instead of allowing him to create an identity of his own) needed more teeth to bite into and chew well all that he gets on a platter.

Post Script: If you are chopping off Anurag Kashyap’s head in the prologue, you better have a film where you can justify the cheeky humor. Kuttey is not that film. And Kashyap, even as a prosthetic head, has the last laugh.