Anupama Chopra’s Film Review of Kaalakaandi

What would you do if you were told that you had only a few months to live? If a doctor suggested, in a matter-of-fact way, that you should call your lawyer and put your affairs in order. Rileen, a banker who doesn’t drink, smoke, do drugs or even eat butter, decides to let go. ‘All these years,’ he says, ‘what was the point?’ Rileen proceeds to drop acid in the midst of frantic prep for his brother’s wedding. What follows is a night of adventure, discovery, comedy, tragedy and compassion. Staring at death, Rileen learns to savour the chaos and colour of life. 

Rileen is played by Saif Ali Khan but he isn’t the central character in the film. Three largely disconnected stories play out in the course of one night. And director and writer Akshat Verma gives us an ensemble cast that includes Akshay Oberoi as Rileen’s confused brother, Sobhita Dhulipala as an ambitious girl leaving that night for the US, Kunaal Roy Kapur as her perpetually plaintive boyfriend, the immaculate scene stealers Vijay Raaz and Deepak Dobriyal as low-level Mafiosi trying to steal from their own boss and my favourite – Neil Bhoopalam as the don’s bodyguard who is a Feroz Khan wannabe. He has – and this detail is essential – only one testicle because he shot the other one while practicing Khan’s moves in the film Khotey Sikkey with loaded guns. 

That’s the sort of movie Kaalakaandi is – trippy, cheerfully absurd and in places, laugh-out-loud funny. Akshat, the writer of Delhi Belly, has a keen eye and ear for the ridiculous. So in one scene, Rileen and a transvestite named Sheila who he has recently befriended are being chased by a constable who is so out of shape that he can barely keep up. Rileen begins this unlikely friendship by telling Sheila, humko bhaut curiosity hai aapke saamaan ke bare mein

These scenes fly because like Rileen, Saif has also decided to let go. There is no star vanity here or any fear of damaging an image. With his hair in a multitude of mini-ponytails, wearing a yellow fur jacket, Saif is fearless. A rainy Mumbai city also plays a leading role – DOP Himman Dhamija takes us through swanky hotel rooms, deserted sea front junk yards, night clubs, tiny apartments. Each space is equally primed for both disaster and laughs. 

But the psychedelic, anything-goes vibe is hard to sustain and energy levels take a definite dip in the second half. I felt like Akshat has bunged in twists so he can wrap up the narrative strands. The movement becomes less seamless and the humour isn’t as consistent – though there is a killer moment with an avid Emraan Hashmi fan. 

Kaalakandi reminded me of another movie about one night in Mumbai – Sudhir Mishra’s wonderful Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin. But this film has an energy and texture that is uniquely Akshat.

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