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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Kuttey, Review: Gulp Friction

Kuttey, Review: Gulp Friction

Quentin Tarantino can rightfully claim a patent to the format used in Kuttey: prologue, epilogue and a non-chronological structure, with the present merging with the past and the past merging with the present. The co-writer and director of Kuttey (Dogs), Aasmaan Bhardwaj was born one year after Pulp Fiction (1994) was released, bagged top honours at home and abroad, and attained cult status soon afterwards. Twenty-seven years after he was born, Aasmaan has made his first feature, and it is an ode, a tribute, to writer-director Quentin Tarantino, whose second film was Pulp Fiction. His first, Reservoir Dogs, too was remade in Hindustani, as Kaante (2002). In fact, it is so similar in treatment to Pulp Fiction that QT might have ghost-directed the film, in his spare time, just for kicks. Kuttey, however, fails to reach the QT benchmark. But once you accept it as an inspired effort, and overlook that aspect, you might get entertained and appreciate Aasmaan’s effort for almost pulling it off. It is off-beat and refreshingly different from some of the fare seen in recent times.

In the prologue, a Naxalite (indigenous people attacking the rich and the police, across many states of India, and demanding autonomy and economic freedom) leader Lakshmi is being tortured in a police station and about to be subjected to rape by a local bigwig. A Police Inspector, known as Paajee, tries to stop his superior from subjecting Lakshmi to more torture and rape. His superior officer beats Paajee black and blue for coming in his way. Just then, Lakshmi’s fellow Naxalites raid the police station and behead the would be rapist. Lakshmi is freed. Before she leaves with her fellow Naxalites, she hands over a grenade to Paajee, asking him to use it when necessary.

Gopal Mishra is having sex in a cheap joint when underworld don Narayan Khobre arrives with his henchmen and confronts him, at gun-point, accusing him of working for an enemy and transgressing on his territory. Khobre wants Gopal to kill his own ‘boss’, another underworld don, and then work for him instead. Left with no choice, Gopal agrees. Khobre also negotiates the same deal with Paaji. Paaji and Gopal both go to the hotel where the ‘boss’ is having a good time at the swimming pool, and entertaining two guests from an African country, apparently his drug suppliers. Before they can shoot him, they both fall into the pool. Gopal loses his gun, while Paajee manages to retain his. Gopal, who cannot swim, is rescued by one of the Africans. Both emerge from the pool and proceed with their mission. In the shoot-out that follows, the boss is shot multiple times, yet manages to escape, while a lot of other persons get killed. The African who rescued Gopal survives, and Gopal lets him go, in return for the favour of saving him from drowning. Gopal and Paajee get their hands on a truck full of drugs. Paajee warns Gopal not to take the risk, but Gopal insists that they decamp with the booty, worth several crores of rupees. Paajee is proved right when they are intercepted at a police checkpoint, the drugs discovered, and the two are presented before a superior police officer. It is revealed then that Gopal is also a police inspector. At first, they pretend that the drug heist was an undercover operation, but when their argument cuts no ice, they accept the charge, and are suspended, pending investigation and trial.

Two developments are going to change their lives forever. First, they learn that an officer called Pammi Sandhu is the woman who takes care of all the dealings of the police commissioner, and secondly, an ex-policeman is now working for a private security company and in charge of transporting crores of rupees every day to various ATMs in the suburbs of Mumbai. They want to bribe Pammi to get off the hook on the drug smuggling charge, but she wants one crore each, to do the needful. That kind of money can only be obtained if they undertake a heist of the cash van, as proposed by Pammi. She makes them an offer they cannot refuse: Rs. 2 crore will go to her, as her fee for exonerating them, and the balance will be their share.

Jointly written by Aasmaan Bhardwaj and his father, veteran film-maker Vishal Bhardwaj, it is a clever script, as dark as some of Vishal’s own work, and maybe even darker. Weaving in the Naxalite angle was indeed a clever idea. But the handing over of the grenade did not make sense, more so because its use comes years later. An Inspector has access to several armaments, and does not need a grenade, and even if he possesses one, will he carry it with him always, not knowing when he might need it? In this context, Lakshmi’s handing over of a grenade seems pointless. When we see it next is the time when Paajee is apparently trying to commit suicide and blow up his own home. That, too, is unconvincing. The second time when it comes to into play is a nice twist, but it seems that the earlier scenes were written with the climax in mind. It is very difficult to believe that Narayan Khobre’s daughter is having a roaring affair with one of his henchmen, Danny, and he has no clue about it. In fact, when she wants to go out, ostensibly, to attend a friend’s wedding preparations and look at some designer clothes, he sends Danny with her, as her driver-escort.

No sane crook will discuss a multi-crore heist loudly in a restaurant, with his prospective partners in crime, within earshot of many of the other hotel guests, as Gopal does. And there is no back-ground on who these people are and why do they swear such loyalty to a man who follows only greed, and sign-up for the heist at the drop of a hat. (Arjun Kapoor described himself as a “greedy dog”, in a TV show, when asked which dog he would identify with in the film’s poster, that shows men with various types of dog faces. On second look, all the characters in the film are greedy dogs, except Lakshmi). Then again, why title the film Kuttey? The most favourite words uttered by actors in films of the 60s, 70 and 80s, when confronted by hideous villains, would be, “Kuttey, kaminey”, Kaminey meaning scoundrel, or lowly person. Why would writers incorporate such a disparaging context for calling somebody a dog would be best known to them. One reason could be that the censorship norms of yore did not allow any swearing, so such words, like Kuttey, Kaminey, were the nearest you could get. Also, there is a 2009 film by the name Kaniney. Did that prevail upon the Bhardwajs while deciding the title, and they settled for Kuttey? The first trait of a dog that comes to mind is faithfulness. That trait is absent in almost all the characters of the film. Other important traits would be protection and obedience. Here too, we have to search hard to find characters that answer to these qualities. But I forget, QT’s first film was called Reservoir Dogs. Since a Pulp Fiction variant, say Gulp Friction, would be unintelligible to Indian audiences and would only work if the film was a satire, the next best is picked from Reservoir Dogs and only ‘reservoir’ would be completely out of context, so Dogs it is, aka Kuttey.

And boy, do these dogs swear! Everybody does, and with fluency. I waited to see if Tabu, playing Pammi Sandhu, would fall in line. And she did, with élan! Now it is a fact that many policemen in Mumbai swear as a habit, and use the most colourful, vitriolic language. Maybe that applies to policemen across the country. And the censors, in 2023, have let pass these abusive punctuations. They have also allowed a scene of simulated sex, featuring an unknown actress astride Arjun Kapoor. What next? Try and count the number of bullets fired and the type of guns used, not to mention a grenade. In one scene, a party of ruthless killers goes berserk and fires hundreds of bullets at another party, hiding inside a dilapidated structure, with the fusillade hitting only the broken walls. The inmates are all hiding behind or under walls, and not one of them is hit. The leader of the assault party then calls out, “If there is anyone still alive, come out now and drop your weapons.” Almost all, if not all, of them troop out, unscathed. What was the logic of the senseless barrage? In one scene, Pammi says that she lives in official police quarters that are so small that she touches the walls whenever she stretches her body, and that fact is prompting her to plan the heist. Pammi must be a highly placed police officer to have such close access to the commissioner, and highly placed police officers would not be given such small houses. Secondly, she must have brokered so many big ticket deals that she would have been able to purchase a bigger house. This sure did not look like her first foray into making illicit money.

The hitmen falling in the swimming pool, and the subsequent shootout, including the escape of the wounded don, are both clever and funny, though one would hardly expect Arjun Kapoor and Kumud Mishra to indulge in comedy. Long-drawn and rain-washed, the climax throws up some real surprises, twists and revelations, which help the film really come into its own, like the countdown scene. Another major twist follows, in the epilogue.

Gopal Tiwari is not given to emotions or nuances. He is a greedy, corrupt cop, who will sell his partner down the river, if necessary. Arjun Kapoor fits the bill in physique, and being dead-pan works to his advantage here. Kuttey is one of his better films. Arjun started as an assistant director and took to acting in 2012. His recent films have been a mixed bag: Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, Sardar Ka Grandson, Bhoot Police and Ek Villain Returns. Tabu is always a delight to watch.   Now 52, she plays a character close to her age, and thankfully, is not made to dance. She remains in character, as a policewoman, a role that is not new to her, wielding power and at home among so many policemen. Overall, he is wasted in a minor role. Konkona Sen Sharma is a treat to watch. Everything, from her eyes to her dress to her gait to her dialogue delivery is Lakshmi.

Naseeruddin Shah as Narayan Khobre is wasted in a minor role. In his introductory scene, there is no reason why wheel-chair-bound Khobre should go to deal with a small fry like Gopal himself, given he has hundreds of henchmen who could do the same quite efficiently. Yet, he delivers – nothing less, nothing more. Kumud Mishra, as Paaji, with his trade-mark smirk, is not at his best, and this is not the kind of role that would bring out his best. Ashish Vidyarthi is brought in for just one scene, and he makes the most of it, as Harry, the ex-policeman who now provides security to vans transporting cash to ATMs. There is an air of sincerity in the performance of Shardul Bhardwaj as Danny. Of the two doomed lovers, he seems to be more grounded than Lovely, more aware of the reality that neither can deny, but one which Lovely, against all odds, wants to escape from. Director Anurag Kashyap appears as the local leader, who, at first, fancies raping Lakshmi, but is revolted when he takes a closer look at her. Soon afterwards, he ends up being decapitated. And if it wasn’t AK, the man is a duplicate.

Cinematography by Farhad Ahmed Dehlvi makes good use of natural elements, especially the rain. Speeding cars, roads and vehicle run-ins are well captured too. Film editing by A. Sreekar Prasad, a real veteran, is good, but we have seen him do better. Some shots seem to be cut abruptly, with no cutting point. Length is fine, at 109 minutes, considering very little of the eight tracks are picturised as standalone songs.

Aasmaan should doff his hat at Quentin Tarantino, 59, whose last film was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). Aasmaan tried to get into the same league, and if he failed, it was not for want of trying.

Rating: ** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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