Director: Aasmaan Bhardwaj
Writers: Aasmaan Bhardwaj, Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Tabu, Kumud Mishra, Radhika Madan, Shardul Bhardwaj, Konkona Sen Sharma, Naseeruddin Shah
Looking at the credits of Kuttey is like listening to a serial name-dropper. The cast includes Naseeruddin Shah, Tabu, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kumud Mishra, Radhika Madan, Arjun Kapoor, Shardul Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap. The lyrics in the soundtrack are by Gulzar and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The music is by Vishal Bhardwaj, who is also credited with additional screenplay and is one of the film’s producers. Another producer is director Luv Ranjan’s Luv Films, suggesting a marriage of Bhardwaj’s edgier aesthetic with Ranjan’s mainstream masala. After all this, if there’s one thing the audience is entitled to, it is great expectations. What you get, however, is disappointment.
Split into chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, Kuttey is about three trigger-happy, corrupt police officers; a couple that wants to elope; and a Naxalite group that’s stomping around Old Khandala Road like they’re on a company offsite. The police and the couple are after a truck that’s filled with cash meant for ATMs. Unsurprisingly, the best-laid heist plans of both the cops and canoodlers go awry. Bullets fly, vehicles crash, blood spurts, people lie, and the audience is taken on flashback after flashback to explain the logic of each cycle of events.
It’s not clear why this wannabe crime caper needed one rape (gods forbid you have a woman Naxal and not have her sexually violated) and two (consensual) sex scenes. All three are gratuitous and add little to either story or characterisation. Rarely does our Central Board of Certification do anything that seems worth thanks, but it might just have improved Kuttey a smidgeon by demanding that scenes of full frontal nudity were “modified suitably”.
The most audacious directorial call in Kuttey is the role that Kashyap’s head plays in Aasmaan Bhardwaj’s film. Perhaps it’s meant to be cheeky, but considering how much Kuttey leans on Kashyap’s filmography — never-say-die underdogs, a wise-cracking underworld don, a chase scene set in a slum — the joke is ultimately on the debutant director because Kashyap remains untoppled as contemporary Mumbai’s most stylish bard. Props to Kashyap for doing the cameo.
To deal with the monotony and clichés in Kuttey, some may want to place bets on who will ultimately get the cash; others may amuse themselves by spotting references to other filmmakers’ works. It begins with the title itself — Kuttey feels like a hat-tip to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992). Aasmaan’s amoral characters seem to be drawn as fan service to The Coen Brothers’ films. The shadow that looms largest is that of Vishal Bhardwaj — not only because there are pointed similarities to Kaminey (2009), but also because it’s safe to say that a regular debutant director would not be able to land the cast and talent that Aasmaan has in his first film. Being Vishal Bhardwaj’s son has helped and the advantage wouldn’t be worth pointing out if it also felt deserved.
The final twist in Kuttey comes in the film’s final moments and it’s possible that the decision to use actual news footage from 2016 will be seen as bold by some. However, even though Kuttey ends with a plaintive “Logic kya hai? (what’s the logic?)”, the film effectively bolsters the false argument that was put forward by the government to justify a decision that had disastrous consequences. Aside from being disappointing, the narrative decision reveals both naivete and wilful ignorance of current affairs.
It’s not that Kuttey is completely without promise. There are occasional scenes, like one in which an informer suggests setting up a WhatsApp group with his police handlers, that show a spark of wit and creativity. Unfortunately, these are too few and far between. Most of Kuttey feels like a student film that wastes the talent at its disposal. Konkona Sen Sharma as the Naxal leader Laxmi delivers perhaps the most underwhelming and laboured performance of her career so far. It’s tempting to say Arjun Kapoor is one-note, but even actors like Tabu and Kumud Mishra struggle to imbue any kind of personality into their roles, which tells you all you need to know about the writing. In one scene, we’re shown a crate with a gun in it. Nestled next to the gun is The Communist Manifesto — because that’s how Naxals roll in the world of Kuttey. Aasmaan’s film is mostly set in a Mumbai of dive bars, highways and shootouts, a city blurred by rain and neon. This makes for pretty pictures, but altogether, Kuttey feels staged and derivative rather than an example of authentic Mumbai noir.
Aasmaan’s lack of imagination is perhaps most vividly showcased with the way he uses the fable of the frog and scorpion that was also central to Darlings. Aside from giving the tale a limp punchline — to which actors like Tabu and Ashish Vidyarthi laugh with all the conviction of your neighbourhood aunty and uncle at their laughter club — there’s the questionable decision to actually show us a frog, with a scorpion on its back. Except, in direct opposition to the fable, the computer-generated frog and scorpion hop across the width of the screen without incident. And thus, we’re all left with the question to which Kuttey has no answer: Logic kya hai?