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KAMINEY. Director: Vishal Bharadwaj. Players: Shahid Kapur, Prinyanka Chopra, Eric Santos, Carlos Paca. Music: Vishal Bharadwaj. Lyrics: Gulzar. Theatrical release (UTV).

In the wake of the larger-than-life imprint thatSlumdog Millionnaire left on both Hollywood and Hindi movies, Kaminey may mistakenly be dismissed as derivative filmmaking that borrows from Slumdog’s successful formula. They are similar in thematic depictions of rags-to-possible-riches storylines, sibling rivalry, as well as abject depravity. At closer inspection, however, Bharadwaj’s siren song is a brilliantly original and standout entry that adds another hard-earned feather in his excellent filmmaking cap. Bharadwaj’s exceptional success at putting together sensational chronicles of gritty lives lived on the edge that started withMaqbool (2003) and Omkara (2006) continues with Kaminey.

A few years ago, during one of Mira Nair’s writing workshops in Uganda, Kenyan native Cajetan Boy submitted a plot outline for what eventually became Kaminey. After several re-writes by a writing team that gave it a Mumbai makeover, the plot morphed into a sharp manifesto. Twin brothers Guddu and Charlie (both played by Kapur) from different life stations unwittingly get caught in the cross-fire between warring underworld gangs. The movie superbly folds in sibling rivalry, the search for a universally coveted and missing guitar case, and even some African blood diamonds.

In a striking departure from roles that Hindi male leads usually take on, the double take that Kapur undertakes features one character that has a lisp and the other who stutters. While these speech limitations stopped being used as comic relief in Hollywood a long time ago, Guddu and Charlie’s speech impediments are intermittently, even unintentionally, used for comic relief. Surprisingly. the only significant post-production hurdle Bharadwaj had to clear was whether members of the Censor Board would accept this level of gratuitous bloodshed and harsh language for a movie marketed at i) Shahid Kapur fans and ii) Priyanka Chopra fans.

Kapur stakes new territory in moving leaps and bounds ahead of his chocolate-sweet “hero” mode while Chopra, as Sweety, carves out a niche as an earthy, comely lass ready to make sacrifices for the man she loves.

A recent development in Mumbai politics has been a grassroots political movement rooted in the exploitation by local politicians of a Mumbai-for-Maharastrians xenophobia in how power, money, and jobs get ear-marked. This includes unwritten decrees about what ethnicities are “acceptable” when it comes to intermarrying Maharashtrians with non-Maharashtrians (hint: none). Bharadwaj’s success at simultaneously exploiting these sentiments while nailing them to the wall, often in the very same scene, elevates the script.

Many lesser filmmakers would shy away from such confrontational elements for fear of political reprisal.

Bharadwaj is a master of creating tension and this tension is sustained throughout the film, culminating in—no surprise—an outburst of orgiastic violence. There is great support by Angolan actors Santos and Paca as members of yet another gang vying for the missing guitar and the dastardly diamonds, as well as newcomer Amole Gupte as a rival gangster whose family connections take center stage. Also, Bharadwaj’s popular score, hugely boosted by Kapur’s Bondesque-sounding dance number “Dhan Te Nan,” provides great accompaniment to a powerful film.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.


LUCK. Director: Soham Shah. Players: Sanjay Dutt, Imran Khan, Mithun Chakraborty, Shruti Haasan, Chitrashi Rawat. Music: Salim-Suleiman. Theatrical release (Indian Films).

Given the global craze over so-called reality game shows, it was only a matter of time before the attraction would spill over into the desi big screen.  For staging lowbrow derring-do and challenging the fictitious mortality of on-screen “contestants,” Luck may easily be called Death Race 2009.  As a testimonial to a dedicated special effects crew honing their F/X chops on this cheaper-thrills-by-the-dozen set up, Luck is pretty decent.

With a premise similar to Georgian filmmaker Gela Balbuani’s 2005 entry 13 Tzameti, Luck has Karim Moussa (Dutt), an underworld gambling powerbroker, who is intent on finding players who have the fortuitous gift for always calling a winning card.  Moussa triangulates on Ram Mehra (Khan), a lost Mumbai youth about to inherit a huge debt. The fact that Ram never calls a bad card makes him priceless. In exchange for wiping off his debt, Ram blindly accepts Moussa’s offer to enter an unknown terrain where Ram’s luck will be pitted against other contestants, who attempt one death-defying stunt after another just to test Moussa’s twisted theory of natural selection at the poker table.

Director Shah, who also wrote the story, aims for a Kafkaesque playing field.  What he gets instead are cleverly designed plays on common phobias—fear of drowing, fear of sharks, fear of jumping out of a jet without a parachute—the sum of which, digested at their sophomoric root, stripped naked of Deep Meaning, are an absolute hoot. Dutt is in his domain as the syndicate mastermind forcibly tempting the fate of others, and Khan is credible as the unwitting little fish that gets pulled into a down-market theater of the absurd.

While veteran Chakraborty, as a cop trying to outduel a cruel trick played on him by fate, is used sparsely and Kamalhaasan’s daugher Shruti appears ill-at-ease facing the camera, it is newcomer Rawat, a UK-born performer debuting here as the picked-on runt of the daredevil pack, who single-handedly steals the show.

Movie venues should be babysitters of last resort, but Luck is the perfect sitter for the teens-and-older crowd that can’t sit still otherwise.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.