In 2009 came ‘Kaminey’, in which Vishal Bhardwaj offered us a compendium of crooks in a plot so entertaining that it practically begged an encore. Sadly, 2023’s first much-anticipated Bollywood feature in theatres, appropriately called ‘Kuttey’, and directed by Vishal’s son, Aasmaan, is not that film.
By all rights, it should have been. By virtue of who he is, Bhardwaj Jr has had access to not just his father who has been credited with additional screenplay and dialogue, and the peerless Gulzar, but also a jaw-dropping ensemble– Naseeruddin Shah, Tabu, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kumud Mishra leading Arjun Kapoor, Radhika Madan, Shardul Bhardwaj– in a story about corrupt cops and gormless goons chasing packets of powder and stashes of cash. Here’s a quick meet-and-greet with our ‘kuttey’. Konkona is a Naxalite leading a rag-tag army, raising slogans about ‘azaadi’. Ooh, brave. Veteran cop Kumud Mishra and his younger colleague Arjun Kapoor are among those who uphold the law and break it at the same time. Naseer is a hood in a wheelchair. And Radhika and Shardul are young and hopeful. They all want something they don’t have– freedom, illicit money, a place to stretch yourself fully. Where will greed, and lots of guns, lead them to?
When it’s not a madly original mix, it’s always going to be the treatment that lifts it. But as we stand by and wait for this lot to do something, anything that’s going to make ‘Kuttey’ the zinger that it promises to be, we realise that it will be a long, fruitless wait. Almost the entire first half feels like a chaotic-yet-flat set-up where these characters slide in and out. A post-interval portion gives us a glimpse of what the film was aiming for – dark, twisty, fast-paced, with each character trying to outwit the other– but overall it remains choppy, and half-baked.
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Literally the only actor who rises magnificently over it all is, of course, Tabu. In a pair of black trousers, white shirt and a red, red mouth, she is all steel and silk, a tender trash-talker reminding you of the pleasures this film should have been brimming over with. Naseerudin Shah isn’t given enough to do, nor is Konkona. And that’s a crime bigger than the one being undertaken in this wannabe Tarantino-Ritchie caper. The rest go around in circles. And also, just what is a straggling lal-salaam troupe doing, traipsing around on the outskirts of Mumbai?
I suppose if it hadn’t been a film from the scion of the man who decisively changed the face of Hindi cinema, it wouldn’t have mattered so much. I really wanted this film to have a signature of its own, a sign that it would carry Vishal Bhardwaj’s legacy forward. But every time the pulsating ‘dhan-ta-naa’ comes on, and it does frequently, you flash back to the grungy delights of ‘Kaminey’, waiting for the feeble, contrived proceedings in front of you to pass.
Who let these dogs out? They have neither bark nor bite.
Kuttey movie cast: Tabu, Arjun Kapoor, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kumud Mishra, Naseeruddin Shah, Ashish Vidyarthi, Radhika Madan, Shardul Bhardwaj
Kuttey movie director: Aasmaan Bhardwaj
Kuttey movie rating: 1.5 stars