It is a wrap from MAMI in what transpired to be the most amazing 10 days of the year for me. And over these 10 days, I got an opportunity ro watch so many different films from across the globe which has truly expanded my acumen for cinema. And fittingly so, the final film that I did watch at MAMI was of my favourite director Anurag Kashyap titled Kennedy, a film that had received a 7 minute standing ovation at Cannes.
For many years now, Anurag Kashyap has been the voice for genre filmmaking in this country. He has tactfully carved a niche for himself which has resulted in a loyal fan base over the years. Having said that, the general consensus over the last few years was that the man who had once directed films like GoW, Ugly, Black Friday or even Dev D has slowly begun to lose his mojo. I feel his last few films after Mukkabaaz weren’t bad films at all and they did strike a chord(which is reflected in our rating of those films too), but I couldn’t help but think that Anurag was not quite in his elements in trying to step out of his comfort zone. The good news was that he still was a notch above many filmmakers even on a bad day! With Kennedy, the film marks the return of Anurag Kashyap to his comfort zone of sorts, and that is what got all his fans really excited. And with Kennedy premiering at the Director’s fortnight at Cannes, the excitement levels were at its pinnacle.
One of the reasons why festivals like MAMI is special is because the viewers get a chance to watch the most unadulterated version of the films from filmmakers without having to worry about censor cuts from the censor board. And hence, the Hindi films that I did zero down upon were mainly the ones which were ‘controversial’ with their content. It happened with Agra with multiple graphic love making sequences, and now with Kennedy that was rumoured to have a strong political undertone with multiple abuses. So then, does Kennedy manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
Set against the backdrop of the pandemic, Kennedy follows the story of an ex-cop who works as a vigilante by night at the behest of the police authorities, while being haunted by his past. The story here is a gripping neo-noir thriller with strong political undertones wherein the filmmaker just doesn’t hold back. The drama is packaged as a serial killer film told in a non-linear style of storytelling that adds layers and layers of political rants, something that you would once associate with Anurag Kashyap on twitter. And quite honestly, this was that one ingredient which was missing from Anurag’s previous ventures. He is most prolific when he is vocal, and that has directly translated into a gripping thriller despite its predictability. The screenplay standing at a little above 140 minutes is compelling wherein the filmmaker keeps certain cards to himself that adds to the mystery element of the film(although the revelation wasn’t entirely unpredictability). But the neo-noir elements kick in wonderfully well in the film!
The drama begins with a voiceover of a character introducing himself while setting the context on whom he has been working for. Yet as a viewer, the thread is left hanging given that you aren’t still acquainted with any of the characters. Soon you are introduced to the protagonist who is shown to be murdering a man before quickly leaving the arena. He is shown to be a chauffeur, driving cabs around the city at night, while working as a vigilante for the Mumbai Police who are known to exploit the corruptions of the system. As the bodies begin to pile up, you also get to know that the protagonist has troubled visions of his past, all of which are told in a traditional non-linear, neo-noir format. The atmospherics are perfectly captured highlighting the underbelly of Mumbai wonderfully well during the pandemic.
The proceedings are engrossing and engaging while the events of the film seem to be like a jigsaw puzzle to be solved. The puzzle here isn’t very hard to decipher given the flashes that are showcased onscreen. But what really hit home in the drama was the political talks wherein the prolific filmmaker has taken massive potshots at the authorities, seamlessly integrating the same in the narrative that added layers to the narrative. The politics in an Anurag Kashyap film has always been intriguing, simply because of the manner in which he sees things which is very different from most filmmalers. Here I must say that the film may only be released after several cuts by the censor board, but a huge shoutout to the filmmaker for voicing his opinion in a rather unabashed manner. The drama has some amazing set-pieces involving the killings of certain individuals with a dry sense of humour which was once a trademark in films of Anurag Kashyap. And all of it makes for a rather compelling watch.
The minor criticism that I had with the film was in its final act which was pretty straight forward even with respect to the flashback that you witness previously in the film. In other words, the cat was out of the bag even before the events unfold onscreen that did take a little shine off the drama. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that this films marks one of the most personal works of Anurag Kashyap with respect to his family, and the equation that he shares with his daughter Aaliyah. The same is showcased as a heartfelt and heartbreaking sequence wherein the protagonist is deprived of seeing his daughter due to unforeseen circumstances, and this is something that saves the final act from crumbling at the end. The final sequence is honestly a masterstroke with an unending sound that penetrates the psyche of not only the protagonist but also the viewers, almost equivalent to breaking the fourth wall. Overall, the screenplay has a lot of bite and it hits home with a gripping piece of writing despite its predictability factor.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are understated yet filled with expletives that stay true to the tone of the drama. And some of the one-liners based on the current political climate will make you chuckle and hoot as well. The music for me did not work as well as it should have, although the songs represent the grimness of the drama quite well. The BGM is excellent with the symphonies playing out against the backdrop of chaos and killings that transpire onscreen. The film scores heavily in the technical department with the cinematography capturing some stunning frames coupled with an incredibly good productiom design and colour grading that keep the tonality of the drama in check. The editing is crisp and sharp and the bordering ‘overwhelming’ runtime did not seem overwhelming at all. Director Anurag Kashyap shows glimpses of his brilliance in quite a few of the sequences which are spread across the film. The trademark Kashyap rant was very much a part of the film here, and that was another reason why the drama worked so well. He does create some intriguing moments including the final masterstroke at the end that made me believe that this is the ‘Vintage Anurag’ that we had once been accustomed to. This is his voice and if he continues to stick to it(irrespective of the genre) then it is upwards and onwards from here.
The performances are quite good here except this one character. I don’t mean to target one particular individual but Mohit Takalkar as Rasheed did not exude the vibe of a police commissioner. He seemed miscast and his persona and body language did not quite command your attention into believing that he was a top cop. Varun Grover was hilarious in that rant(see if you can spot him in the film). Karishma Modi as Gunjan has her moments to shine as does Kurush Deboo and Aamir Dalvi as Saleem. Abhilash Thapliyal as Chandan has a delightful persona onscreen and he puts it to full use here in a good performance with traces of mystery to his character. Sunny Leone as Charlie does a good job as well with the humour in her character although her screen time is limited. Megha Burman as Anuradha is top notch and her confrontation scenes are excellent. Shrikant Yadav as Kaale is a top actor and he is excellent here in the role of a sub-inspector with traces of dry humour to his character. And he nails his one-liners and how!
But the show undoubtedly belongs to Rahul Bhat as Uday Shetty aka Kennedy(a role originally penned for Chiyaan Vikram whose real name is Kennedy) who is in an absolute beast mode here! You can see the amount of hardwork that may have gone in his physical transformation, and he exudes of a powerful aura in the film. He is understated that adds to the intimidation factor of his character in what was a towering performance that held your attention throughout. Not only is he unabashed with his persona and antics but he balances the same in some wonderfully expressed emotional scenes. He was brilliant to the core and I really wish other filmmakers give him a chance with similar meaty roles.
As a part of our MAMI coverage, Kennedy is a gripping neo-noir thriller with strong political undertones that makes for a wonderful watch. This couldn’t have been a better way to wrap up MAMI(still two reviews pending from my end) with Anurag Kashyap finding his voice again. The fanboy in me slept well last night! Keep an eye on its theatrical release which may not be too far away, censors permitting!