Saif Ali Khan has an epiphany. His character in Akshat Verma’s Kaalakandi has just found out that he is suffering from stomach cancer. He has only a few months to live. And at one point in the course of a wild night, he realises that he won’t see his child grow up. In a movie full of loud humour, blaring music and neon-lit visuals, this quiet moment in a lift undresses the celebrity and a vulnerable actor remains. In spite of his ‘tone-deaf open letter’ (which he himself is embarrassed about too), Saif is one actor who successfully made the transition into character-driven films, not necessarily star vehicles. It’s taken him 25 years, but I think he ‘gets it’.
And that’s probably why he decided to lead this fantastic ensemble including – Vijay Raaz, Deepak Dobriyal, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Sobhita Dhulipala and Akshay Oberoi. Kaalakandi has four parallel narratives taking place in a drenched Mumbai over the course of a single night. Operating like most urban capers where all characters are on the cusp of something life-changing, till how the night ends determines which way their life is headed.
Saif’s Rileen having been diagnosed as terminally ill, sets out to discover everything he’s abstained from…like smoking, drinking and satisfying his life-long curiosity about a transsexual’s ‘southern hemisphere’. When he finds a trans sex worker (played by Nary Singh) who does him the favour in exchange for a few drinks in a 5-star, his brother asks him if he’s bi-curious. To which he responds with ‘scientifically curious…Marie Curie curious’. Barring a few scenes, Saif’s character seems like he’s stuck in a limbo where he neither gets the witty lines, nor does he end up as someone you feel bad for. Which is a shame, because he looks game for so much more.
Akshay Oberoi, playing Saif’s brother, is coming to terms with the fact that he will be a married man in a few hours. He sets out to feel like free man one last time, after an ex-girlfriend invites him over to a hotel room. The actor who last appeared in Shanker Raman’s Gurgaon, behaves strangely like a Gurgaon resident. He runs a red light, puts on his shades for a wedding function…where some shoots a revolver in the air. Could it be a more Gurgaon wedding?
Kunaal Roy Kapur and Sobhita Dhulipala get stuck in a drug bust when one of them has a flight to catch to the US, in a few hours. Dhulipala and Kapur bring a novelty of their own to the most underwritten track of the film. The humour is mined through the actors’ straight faces before it descends into a freefall.
Both Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz are henchmen for the local mob boss, who get seduced by the huge amount of money they’re carrying. By far the most compelling track of the film, it helps that actors in the centre of the frame are equally capable actors with an easy-going vibe. Raaz needs to take a bullet in the hip, if they’re going to convince their boss that they were attacked, and a bag of money went missing.
The film doesn’t break any new ground, when it comes to reinventing the formula of screwball comedy where multiple narratives collide in a span of few hours. His writing debut (2012’s Delhi Belly) was much more freewheeling and ‘mad’, while this one is hellbent on taking itself seriously. Almost like a deliberate attempt went into ‘keeping it sane’. In one scene, a police officer lets a character off after an accident and turns to the lady constable and says, “Mulgi shikli, pragati jhaali.” You wish there was more of that in the film.
The only thing consistent about Kaalakandi is Sameer Uddin’s hip soundtrack. Whether it Swagpur ka Chaudhary or the title track, the music comes alive each time it is interspersed with LSD hallucinations, which are shot rather well. The overall film though, is like that cheap drug given to you by a friend promising a ‘great trip’…but alas, something that fails to kick in at all. Some legit maal please?