After almost a year of delays, Sanjay Gupta┬┤s long-awaited Kaante has finally hit the big screen. The question audiences have is obvious; was it worth the wait? And the answer is a resounding yes! Kaante offers an irresistibly fun movie-going experience.
Oddly enough, despite being heavily inspired from a number of American heist flicks, Kaante is still a progressive piece for Indian cinema. This is mainly because it succeeds where recent films have faltered; it successfully applies India┬┤s all-inclusive masala formula to the sensibilities of a modern audience.
Hordes of films have been failing left, right, and center in their attempts to cram in all the demands made of India┬┤s escapist pictures into one film. The old cookie-cutter plots with inane comedy, romantic, and action interludes have not aged well. Instead, their constant recycling by India┬┤s filmmakers has resulted in atrocities such as Karz, Annarth, and Maseeha.
But Kaante puts a whole new, and very welcome, spin on things. The director takes a back seat, and allows plot, characterization, and action to glide through Bollywood┬┤s escapist over-the-top conventions. And the results are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Kaante is the first grand and contemporary Indian commercial pot-boiler.
The narrative involves six Indians living abroad with shady criminal pasts brought together by police investigators who are convinced that one of them has stolen a truck full of laptop computers. The six meet up in a jail cell and decide they will strike back at the cops by robbing the bank where the cops┬┤ pay comes from.
The characters have some desperate circumstances that require them to take up the job. Major (Amitabh Bachchan) needs to get money to fly his terminally sick wife (Rati Agnihotri) back to India. Marc (Suneil Shetty) needs to get enough money to support his dancer girlfriend Lisa (Malaika Arora) and get her away from the stripper-life. Andy (Kumar Gaurav) needs money to fight a court case against his estranged wife who won┬┤t let him see his son. Ajju (Sanjay Dutt) is in the deal for the manic thrill, and Bali (Mahesh Manjrekar) and Mak (Lucky Ali) are in it to pay off thugs and strippers that they owe money.
So the men pull off the robbery after minute planning, but when they prepare to make their escape they are ambushed by the Los Angeles Police Department. The six make their escapes in separate ways and meet up again in an abandoned warehouse. There, they try to figure out which member of the crew tipped off the police.
Every track in the plot flows as seamlessly and naturally as one can imagine. None of the tracks are forced and each character and storyline maintains a constant level of conviction. Unlike most Bollywood entertainers, there are no comedy sketches that stick out like sore thumbs or boy-and-girl dancing through trees routines. In Kaante, the comedy comes naturally from the dialogs (Mahesh Manjrekhar and Sanjay Dutt are hilarious at times), the glamour is built in and not tacked on (Isha Koppikar and Malaika Arora are quite relevant to the plot), and the action is not pedestrian and archaic in presentation.
It is this successful integration of Bollywood conventions into a completely unorthodox storyline and presentation that makes Kaante outstanding in the context of Indian commercial cinema. The film is from an unlikely genre, it was shot abroad on an international scale, it is consistent in plot and tone, but still caters to audiences exceptionally well.
Kaante also deserves a special mention in the "look and feel" department. This is definitively the best film ever made in Bollywood when it comes down to technical wizardry. The style of editing is extremely flashy and fits the ambience of the film like a glove. The action scenes are very well coordinated and extremely well shot. The camera work is innovative and consistent throughout. The background music sounds like the score of a Hollywood blockbuster and the special effects are not far off from that standard either. And the song and dance numbers have been edited to create sequences that have much less in common with other Hindi films and much more so with MTV music videos. Viscerally, Kaante is aptly stylish and one of the best calculated and executed films out of India ever.
Sanjay Gupta is no brilliant filmmaker, but he certainly deserves applause for a job well done here. He adds his own style to the shots and manages to keep the overall piece different from the Hollywood originals he has copied. He also deserves applause for handling a number of tense sequences remarkably well, such as the bank robbery and the gun fight that follows it immediately after.
Performances are brilliant from all the lead players. Sanjay Gupta is the rare Indian director who realizes an ensemble cast doesn┬┤t mean one or two leads with famous actors playing supporting roles. Each lead character is given an equally weighted role to play here, and the men compliment each other perfectly. There is no one show stealer, but that┬┤s not to say that everyone involved hasn┬┤t done stellar work.
Amitabh Bachchan is superb in his role, as expected. He overflows with style but manages to keep his character vulnerable and human. He is perfectly cast as the brilliant, desperate, forceful and towering leader of the pack.
Sanjay Dutt is incredible as well. He plays his character with a disturbing undercurrent of insanity and the result is one of the best performances of the year.
Mahesh Manjrekar is excellent. In fact, he steals some of the best scenes in the film. As a reckless drug addict, he is both side-splittingly funny and touchingly emotional.
Suneil Shetty is in his element once again, after a number of terrible performances, and reminds everyone that he is a performer to be reckoned with. His coolly reserved performance hits all the right notes, and he becomes one of the most sympathetic characters by the film┬┤s end.
Lucky Ali is powerful once again after Sur. He doesn┬┤t mouth many dialogs, but his body language and mysterious eyes always make his presence felt. Kumar Gaurav is also impressive, especially considering he hasn┬┤t been acting for a decade or so.
Supporting artists are alright. Malaika Arora is stunningly gorgeous in her dance numbers and scenes, and manages to evoke emotion in the few scenes she shares with Suneil. Rati Agnihotri is proficient, but has very little screen time. If there is one bad performance in the film, it comes from Gulshan Grover. He overacts and hams in all his scenes, and his repetitive name-calling of Suneil Shetty┬┤s character very quickly grates on audience nerves. Isha Koppikar is great in her dance number appearance.
But all this is praise is not to say that Kaante doesn┬┤t have its share of flaws. It has a number of them, in fact.
Sanjay Gupta falters as a director in parts. He clearly didn┬┤t know where to draw the line when it came to action scenes and flashy sequences, and the movie sometimes spirals out of control as a result. Pacing is very deficient. Some unnecessary sequences that do little more than showcase standard Hollywood technical effects go on for far longer than they should, and slow the film down to a near snail pace. This is likely the biggest thorn in Kaante┬┤s side; it drags in times where it should be moving at breakneck speed.
Also the screenplay, an amalgamation of a number of Hollywood films, has a few glaring plot holes and illogical sequences. Why do the men use their guns for target practice in an open area, firing off of a rooftop in Los Angeles? Why do they fret about killing a single cop in the warehouse when they have just downed twenty or so at the bank? How can they walk around in the open without fear just minutes after the robbery? Aren┬┤t the cops still looking for them? Hasn┬┤t the media been alerted? Lastly, there┬┤s hardly a drop of originality to be found anywhere in the movie. If Kaante deserves to be panned for anything, it┬┤s the derivative plot. The first half of the plot is copied from Brian Singer┬┤s The Usual Suspects, where a crew of robbers decides to work together after being falsely accused of stealing a truck. The second half is copied almost scene for scene and dialog for dialog from Quentin Tarantino┬┤s Reservoir Dogs. The lack of originality is so blatant and shameless, it is almost compelling enough to completely down-rate the film; the plot is copied, the characters are copied, and even the dialogs have been lifted in parts. One wishes an Indian picture shot this well, with so many top-notch actors and featuring such great use of resources would at least feature an original storyline.
But even though Kaante is highly derivative cinema, it represents a step in the right direction for Bollywood. The technical finesse featured in the film is almost on par with the average Hollywood feature, and hopefully Indian producers will take notice and try to emulate the level of style and control over ambience exhibited here. The plot is unorthodox as well, and if this movie fares well at the box office, it may pave the way for future nonconformist ventures by Indian filmmakers.
Overall, Kaante is well worth the wait and a must-watch for those who have kept their faith in Indian cinema despite a truly lackluster year. This is a bombastic, furious picture that has only one goal; that is, to thrill audiences and keep them glued till the last frame. And the film manages to accomplish this feat remarkably well. Kaante is everything a masala movie should be; it packs the whole smorgasbord of Bollywood conventions - romance, dances, glamour, comedy, drama - into one fun-filled, action-packed, polished joy-ride of a film.