In the years of the COVID pandemic, India’s authoritarian government(s) saw an opportunity to crack down further on people’s democratic rights. The imposition of stringent lockdowns bred an air of looming paranoia, only for it to get exploited at the hands of the regime. In its opening credits, “Kennedy” reminds you of the embarrassing brunt Mumbai city police’s reputation had taken after the pandemic outbreak. Soon after that, the film doesn’t take long to establish how its titular lead is an enraging embodiment of this paranoia. As a character puts it, he is quite literally a “raging monster.”

Anurag Kashyap has often been known for his distinctively angsty approach behind the camera, one that’s helped echo some of the most culturally rooted films in Bollywood. However, in the past few years, the filmmaker has tried echoing this voice by experimenting with genres relatively new to him. But the refreshing avenue of collaborating with different screenwriters has mostly come at the cost of the piercing deftness that made his earlier works so memorable.

In his latest feature, “Kennedy” – which had its Indian premiere at Jio MAMI 2023 – the filmmaker returns to the genre of B-noir. With a nefarious plan boiling in the underbelly of the city, Uday Shetty, aka Kennedy, must step in to reinforce the status quo. A former policeman, he operates in the shadows as a contract killer. While roaming around the empty streets of Mumbai late at night, Kennedy goes around hungover on insomnia. However, the ghost that informs his ruthless stoicism stems out of his family, presuming him dead for years. But things get complicated one night soon after Uday runs into Charlie (Sunny Leone in the confident role of a femme fatale), who happens to live in the same building as the killer’s aforementioned victim.

Sunny Leone in Kennedy (2023)
Sunny Leone in Kennedy (2023)

Uday mostly functions under the orders of police chief Rasheed (Mohit Takalkar), who sees a perfect opportunity to use the man’s supposedly dead orderly to do his dirty work without any trace. But he is also out on a personal revenge quest, the motivations of which get revealed in narrative flashes that show us his past life.

This explosive mixture of tragic anti-hero and twisted psychopath finds its thematic core in the voiceover we get throughout the film. That’s precisely what makes the film a bold comeback for Kashyap because it doesn’t shy away from bringing the manifestations of a troubled man’s alter ego to explore the human psyche.

But while the neat structure of the film aims to return the filmmaker back to the art-pulp niche, the screenplay never fully commits itself to the B-noir setting. Kashyap’s political commentary rarely takes the quieter approach; perhaps that’s what makes most of his films feel urgent. But the temptation of going overboard on building upon the satirical aspects punctures the narrative momentum of the film. While the bits of dark humor work extraordinarily well in the bleak brutality of the world he paints, the need for explicitly showing Uday’s past life robs the film of its urgency. 

Ultimately, it’s the film’s technical aspects that make the world-building so engrossing. Most of the earlier scenes of grisly violence here are adorned with Tchaikovsky’s loud compositions (recorded by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra), thus painting a provocative contrast from the get-go. The frequent collaborations with cinematographer Sylvester Fonseca also go on to show how committed Kashyap’s approach to making his stories feel in tune with the heedful world-building has been. The result is how we get a whole different side of Mumbai on the screen – one that stinks of deep-rooted corruption but finds its streets mostly empty, given the indifference around it. 

Also, Read: All Anurag Kashyap Movies Ranked, from Worst to Best

Tanya Chhabria and Deepak Kattar’s agitated editing never undercuts the rich information in the film’s background as well as the foreground. But it’s the music by Aamir Aziz and Raghav Bhatia that sells the pervasive passivity that’s pushed people like Kennedy on the brink of turning corrupt. Perhaps that’s why the patches that go on to show his backstory feel forced, keeping the film at an arm’s distance from being a committed B-noir. Kennedy knows he doesn’t need to wear a mask to sell how indifferent he is – but it’s his conviction of being self-righteous that makes the rot around him so repugnant. After all, what his name implies is as fatuous as whether he enjoys killing his victims or not. He is yet another lonely individual who’s lost to the ideals of individualism in a country that’s become scared of its own shadow.

Kennedy (2023) Movie Information

External Link: Rotten Tomatoes
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Original Language: Hindi
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Producer: Ranjan Singh, Kabir Ahuja
Writer: Anurag Kashyap
Runtime: 2h 22m
Production Co: Good Bad Films

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