The intriguing title and the delicious dark humour of Delhi Belly (written by Kaalakaandi’s writer-director Akshat Verma) had me looking forward to seeing this one! I saw Delhi Belly all over again a day before Kaalakaandi, and was amazed at Verma’s writing smarts in both the films. But why, one wonders, is the audaciousness and blaze diluted in Kaalakaandi.
When you see an attractive female character flirting with a man wearing multiple ponytails and a yellow fur jacket (she doesn’t question this absurd get-up), obviously high, and who has just confessed that he's terminally ill, you realize the film is not even trying to be realistic. It's a fantasy. But you gotta sell the fantasy too. The film doesn’t.
We begin with the premise that Saif Ali Khan’s character is diagnosed with cancer. Distraught, he goes to his brother’s wedding and gets high on LSD. The scene where the drug kicks in, and he sees dolphins popping out of the roads, had me thinking back to Shaandaar’s magic mushrooms sequence.
Then he goes on to pick up a transgender sex-worker to satiate a, err, curiosity. This encounter leads to some warm moments, some funny ones. This encounter is also the only place where the film gets at least a bit audacious.
Meanwhile, the groom gets into some trouble. Two lovers find themselves in an unsavory situation. And on the other side of the city, two goons (Vijay Raaz, Deepak Dobriyal) are up to no good. The stories intertwine, and we are not convinced that they really needed to connect.
Also disappointing was the decidedly chauvinistic gaze. A female photographer shows up at work in a cleavage-revealing top; another woman (the sexy foreigner) is the seductress and cheat; almost all expletives (DB had far fewer) are the rudimentary ones about mothers and sisters. The only ‘normal’ female character turns out to be unrealistically virtuous.
Coincidences take place and thundering rain begins as if on cue. The film mainly focuses on two brackets of society. First is the rich, privileged class prone to using English expletives, and fairly humanized. But distractingly, like Saif’s character in the film, they flit between being high to sober and back within a single scene.
Then there are the hardened street gangsters that make you miss the comic goofiness of the baddies in Delhi Belly (DB). Our criminals here come up with petulant schemes in all seriousness (Spoiler ahead) —‘We'll rob boss's money. I'll pretend-shoot you. We'll tell boss someone shot you and took the money. Boss will see the bullet wound and believe us.’
A word about Saif Ali Khan—full marks to him for always looking for ways to push the envelope. It’s interesting that despite his propensity to choose the modern, city characters, his most impressive performance still remains that of the intense, frightening and rustic Langda Tyagi in Omkara. It’s just one of those things that can’t be explained! And maybe a nudge for him to push his boundaries further?
Analyzing the link between Kaalakaandi and DB seems inevitable with the overlap of genre and key people in both the cast and crew. Both films push the envelope, even if one is more accomplished than the other.
Kaalakaandi may not be as path-breaking as it set out to be, but here’s an ode to all films that swerve from the formula to put out something new!