Like how too much saccharine spoils a melodrama, spilling too much acid on a crime thriller for the heck of it burns the palate. The realisation dawns after meeting debutant writer-director Aasmaan Bhardwaj’s Kuttey which reminds us of the freakish universe that his father Vishal Bhardwaj created in Kaminey (2009) but lacks the deep sense of rootedness that allowed the Shahid Kapoor-starrer to fly.
Told like a pulpy crime fiction by a new fanboy of Tarantino, Aasmaan’s mise-en-scène grips and some of the early set pieces promise to take us on a roller-coaster ride through a morally agnostic landscape, but somehow, the whole turns out to be less than the sum of its parts. Kuttey seems like an assortment of foreign breeds dressed up like Indian dogs, but as the show progresses, the colour gives way to reality.
With Bhardwaj Sr., who is credited with additional screenplay and dialogue, Aasmaan unleashes a set of greedy characters salivating at the first opportunity to make some big bucks with little risk. There are corrupt cops, a marauding mafia, and a Naxalite outfit negotiating to get their share of crores (of rupees), coke, and of course, aazadi. Then there is a daughter of a gang lord eager to break free from darkness to light, but through equally-questionable means.
There are initial sparks in writing that create an illusion that we are going to watch a tinderbox explode on celluloid, but after a powerful prologue that makes a stirring comment on the state of affairs in parts of India, Kuttey loses its bite.
The film advises us to focus less on logic and more on character, but with the way it turns out, it seems like the makers want us to enjoy the packaging of the same old story of a heist gone wrong for a new audience with an excellent ensemble of actors that include Tabu, Naseeruddin Shah, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kumud Mishra, Arjun Kapoor, Radhika Madan and Shardul Bharadwaj. In spite of an unlimited supply of bullets and cuss words at their disposal, and Gulzar’s acerbic verse, and Farhad Dehlvi’s cinematography adding a tinge of subversion and depth to the proceedings, the characters cannot prevent us from seeing through a flimsy screenplay that is trying hard to appear smart.
There is a chase sequence that meets a predictable dead end and the dog fight that makes the climax a little too contrived. The parable of scorpion and frog that explains the motivations of Kuttey is interesting, but has been told many times before — the last we heard it was in Darlings in a different context but with similar results. The subplot of a ganglord’s daughter in love with his Muslim henchman seems more like an excuse to create a love-making sequence.
Radhika is getting repetitive as the flower who turns out to be fire, but after Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, Arjun is once again believable in the part of a corrupt policeman caught in a situation, and Kumud as his foil, smoothly delivers the good, the bad, and the ugly side of human nature. Shah doesn’t have much to do than growl and Konkona is sadly saddled with a half-baked part. It is Tabu who really relishes the quirkiness of the plot and has been given some of the best lines. Her observation of men will shake some of the confidence that dudes carry, and her dark shades and rouge lips melt hearts all over again.
However, the electric mood and fiery dialogues are not enough to sustain a noir. The editing tricks employed to propel interest stops working after a point. The pro-establishment message at the end perhaps saved the film from the scissors of the Central Board of Film Certification, but it is a lame and dated plot device that doesn’t go with the aura that Kuttey creates around its animated characters.
Kuttey is currently running in theatres