Kennedy begins with a man sitting alone in a luxurious Mumbai apartment peeling an apple with a knife. The expertise with which he skins the fruit with his gloved hands indicates that he’s probably good at using said knife for other things. There is a menacing stillness about him. Soon enough, the blood begins to flow. Kennedy is the character study of an insomniac ex-cop who becomes the police commissioner’s personal contract killer. We are told that it is “a complete work of fiction based on true events.” These true events include the discovery of a bomb-laden jeep near the home of a Mumbai industrialist but Kennedy is not a film looking to find its truth in headlines. It’s a stylized descent into the personal hell of a murderer. For writer-director Anurag Kashyap, after the missteps of Dobaaraa and Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat, it’s also a bracing return to form.
Uday Shetty, who reinvents himself as Kennedy, is no ordinary murderer. He is a man who kills with such ease that even his colleagues in the police force seem a little wary. Once he is out of uniform, Uday becomes a blunt instrument for the corrupt commissioner. He shoots, stabs, bludgeons, suffocates. It’s almost as if doling out death is his life’s mission. Another character refers to him as Yamraj.
Violence has long been Anurag’s metier. His cinema has revelled in blood and broken bodies but in Kennedy, the child-like glee and shock of some of his earlier work, is missing. In many of the scenes, the camera is placed at a distance from the bloodshed. Kennedy is a killer but the world he inhabits is so corrupt that becoming a murderer for hire almost seems like a legitimate response. The evil that the narrative hints at is much larger and all-encompassing – in one scene, a character asks: "Yeh desh kaun chala raha hai (Who is running this this country)?" And then provides the answer himself: "Desh woh log chala rahe hain jo sarkar ko palte hain (The people who nurse governments run this country)". In another superbly staged sequence, a young man harangues his father to buy him a motorcycle. He is outraged by his father’s insistence on honesty. This sequence is among the best and most horrifying in Anurag’s filmography – right up there with the brother-sister sequence in Raman Raghav 2.0.
Kennedy works as an atmospheric mood piece – the cinematography by Sylvester Fonseca is superb. The music by Aamir Aziz and Raghav Bhatia aka Boyblanck underlines the film’s combative streak. Besides the songs, Anurag also uses elaborate orchestral music (recorded by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra). Rahul Bhat, playing the titular character, uses his imposing physicality with skill but he also enables us to empathize with a man powered by his worst instincts. Sunny Leone as Charlie has a veneer of artificiality that works for the character – a deeply damaged woman who is doing what she can to survive.
Kennedy is set during the Covid-era and in many scenes, characters wear masks. This includes Uday whose mask, which has a man’s lower jaw printed on it, makes him even more terrifying. Uday’s tragedy is that underneath that mask, his face is also frozen into an emotionless mask. There is no escape for him from himself or the many he has killed.