Kuttey (2023) Review: Is there any other filmmaker that comes to mind when talking of a legacy that’s created a rich space for artistic talent and expression to the brim to its fullest potential within the mainstream Hindi cinema other than Vishal Bhardwaj? For decades now, he’s consistently been giving an antithetical answer to most ‘nepotism’ imbued Bollywood films.
Not only that, but by using his first and foremost talent of composing densely layered music, Bhardwaj has also proven how the art form can be used to thematically push the narratives of films forward rather than rendering it into an adversary tool. Thankfully, the directorial debut of Aasmaan Bhardwaj (the son of the acclaimed filmmaker) doesn’t undo the legacy established by Sr. Bhardwaj, mainly due to its sloppy execution.
One of the many leading faces of this ensemble heist thriller is Konkona Sen, who plays a Naxalite leading a rag-tag army, conveniently carrying along the communist manifesto in her bag of arms while raising slogans about ‘Azaadi.’ In the film’s opening few minutes, she narrates a supposedly symbolic fable that includes dogs, goats, and a lion.
The veteran cop she narrates this to, played by Kumud Mishra, stares at her face, somewhat perplexed. Will he be the only character in this otherwise crowded film capable of holding a moral compass? Perhaps. Would it be enough to keep the momentum of this almost 2- hour-long film that masquerades itself as a Tarantino-Ritchieesque heist thriller but without the sensibilities or executive control of either filmmaker? Definitely not.
Arjun Kapoor plays a vile cop named Gopal, who desperately seeks to get hold of a couple of crores to revoke his suspension. His partner, who finds himself in the same situation, is the distressed Paaji (Mishra). Even after his startling experience at the beginning of the film continues to get his hand dirty in the greyer streets of Mumbai).
After the official duty hours, the two men work for a ruthless, wheelchair-bound crime lord Narayan Khobre (played by Naseeruddin Shah). Soon, they find themselves in a difficult situation where perhaps the law is finally coming after them. It’s here when we’re also introduced to Poonam ‘Pammi’ Sandhu (Tabu) – easily a standout character from the film.
Oh, there’s also an eloping couple the film throws at you during its interval mark, which includes the crime lord’s own daughter (Radhika Madan) shacking up along with his henchman (Shardul Bhardwaj). Like the other characters, this couple also finds itself en route to, ahem, old Khandala road, driven by personal motivations.
The intent of this on-paper promising debut might’ve been to somewhat pin a black comedy within the chaos of multiple people – functioning in the morally corrupt world of Mumbai – targeting one giant truck. Now, there’s never too much violence in a film if it’s all contextualized well; if the plan is to make violence look funny in a Tarantinoesque way, “Kuttey” falls flat in almost every scene. It’s a classic case of style and pretension over substance while vehemently watering down the notions of genre fluidity in the face of flashy visuals.
There are echoes and visual cues from Vishal Bhardwaj’s most accomplished films to be seen here. The more obvious (and in the face) of these cues remains the motif of musical notes from his 2009 hit “Kaminey.” But there’s also the textured and atmospheric photography of characters having conversations about corruption and life in Mumbai while we watch them through the tinted windows of rusted trucks – shots like these reminded me of that chilling opening from “Maqbool.”
Unfortunately, it’s all done to the extent of losing its artistic essence. In another 7- minute section during the film’s second half, a run-chase sequence gets thrown at you only to serve a forgettable on-screen punchline that comes out of nowhere. That also brings me to the point I made earlier about violence always being ill- contextualized.
One of the very few clever touches to the screenplay is the way in which Aasmaan Bhardwaj incorporates two fables in the story – each comes from characters that couldn’t be farther away from the code with which they choose to live their lives. While the one in the prologue sets up the overall thematics of the film, it’s the latter – which also gives the movie’s epilogue its title ‘Mendhak aur Bichchoo’ – that establishes a full circle in the overarching theme of “Kuttey” while also adroitly deviating from its moral lesson.
But by the time the movie reaches its high point, it’s already talked too down to its own audience – enough to make anyone grow numb to its nonsensical action. In that regard, “Kuttey” echoes much of the pitfalls of Anubhav Sinha’s “Anek” instead of finding its own echo in yet another promising voice from the Bhardwaj family.