Aasmaan Bhardwaj’s Kuttey shares some obvious similarities with his father’s Kaminey. Besides the ‘Dhan Te Nan’ background score, both thrillers seem ‘Tarantinoesque’, aiming to blend tense violence and idiosyncratic comedy – Kuttey is even divided into chapters, right down to a prologue and an epilogue, like Pulp Fiction.
If Kaminey’s twin brothers winked at old Bollywood’s mistaken identity trope, then the duality in Kuttey materialises via two-faced cops.
But unlike Kaminey – which opened to a kinetic chase sequence very much in sync with its overall tone – Kuttey’s first scene is sombre: a tense conversation between a jailed Naxalite, Laxmi (Konkana Sensharma), and a meek cop, Paaji (Kumud Mishra) about “azaadi”. After Laxmi and her comrades kill the cops, a song Azaadi plays in the background as they march under a red sky.
But this loaded political tone (and its embodiments) vanish – for almost the entire film – making the revolutionary clarion calls bathetic. Kuttey isn’t about the insurgents versus state, as its next three chapters clarify, but cops versus cops, competing for corruption, cruelty, and deceit.
Even when the movie cuts to the first chapter (“Sabka Maalik Ek”), it takes a long time to cohere into a story. We get one subplot after the other that evaporate like the Naxalite bit, leaving almost no meaningful trace on the story. The comedic bits at best elicit a dry chuckle; the characters remain ciphers; the tension seems to be pressed on the story, not emerge from it.
Yet you wait.
Because Kuttey has no dearth of high-wattage figures: Naseeruddin Shah (a feared don), Tabu (a corrupt cop), Ashish Vidyarthi (an ex-cop), Anurag Kashyap (a drunk cameo) along with Arjun Kapoor (another corrupt cop) and Radhika Madan (the don’s daughter). Around the 25th minute mark, Harry (Vidyarthi) tells Pammi (Tabu), “Chal, ek joke suna.” Finally, I thought, the film will find its zing.
What follows isn’t a joke but a fable – The Scorpion and The Frog – last seen in Darlings.
I don’t remember the last time I kept hoping for a Bollywood film to get better, and it only got worse. (Maybe Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar? – maybe Bhardwaj’s own, Rangoon?) Because even when Kuttey finds the meat of its story – several groups trying to intercept and loot a van carrying an enormous amount of cash – it continues to marinate in randomness.
The movie flaunts the chapters’ names but lacks a crucial novelistic quality: ‘flow’.
Kuttey is the literary equivalent of short choppy sentences: Like this. And this. Then more this. And more that. Not just at the level of sequences but the entire film. Characters appear; characters die. Bullets fly. Plans hatched. Plans overheard. Poignant epiphany. Random rona. Emo song. Sex in the car. Rain. A lame joke. Betrayal. More betrayal. Shootout. More shootout.
Even with a story that takes several convenient leaps, Kuttey could have been compelling if it had two main qualities: protagonists with arresting specificities and motivations, and the meaningful bonds among them. But whether it’s Kapoor or Tabu or Shah’s characters, they’re generic types, not people. They don’t intrigue; they don’t delight; they don’t surprise. And besides a short-lived lopsided power dynamic between Gopal (Kapoor) and Paaji, none of the other pairs share anything.
So when they threaten, attack, or betray each other, you only get a simulacrum of feeling, not the feeling itself. And if the background score isn’t going ‘Dhan Te Nan’, then it leans on another recurring track – think Hans Zimmer’s BRAAAM! suffering from stomach disorder – which, much like the film, shows a distinct disconnect between what Kuttey is and what it wants to be.
It’s also plain inane at times. The cops behave like serial killers. Granted, Indian cops relish a high degree of impunity, but the movie takes it too far. At the start of the film, for instance, Gopal murders over a dozen people at a party. There’s nothing here that a random killing can’t solve.
By the end, Kuttey doesn’t remind you of Kaminey (an entertaining crime caper) but Rangoon (an inert and patchy piece) right down to the sloppy climactic CG – here blood flies in sudden streams, like a water gun going berserk in Holi. But you at least get some commitment from somewhere in a film that should have remembered an iconic Tarantino line: “Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?”