With every Hindi movie I watch, I expect that I’m not going understand everything. I don’t speak Hindi, so wordplay jokes go right over my head. I’ve lived in America my whole life, so references to things like Indian historical figures also go over my head. Rarely do these cultural and language differences impede my enjoyment.
But Kaminey is different. On top of a convoluted plot, Kaminey contains so many euphemisms and Indian regional references that most non-Hindi-speaking Westerners may find it more confusing than entertaining.
The plot of Kaminey (“Scoundrels”) focuses on the troubled lives of pair of identical twin brothers, both played by Shahid Kapoor. Guddu is a straight-arrow who stutters and has a cute girlfriend named Sweety (Priyanka Chopra). Charlie is a thug who works with a gang to fix horse races. He has a speech impediment which causes him to substitute the letter “f” in place of “s”.
Charlie gets his big break when he accidentally finds a huge stash of cocaine, which he intends to sell for big bucks. Meanwhile, Guddu’s life is threatened when Sweety’s brother finds out that she’s pregnant with Guddu’s child. The twins, who haven’t spoken in years, each get suspected of the other’s actions, and all hell breaks loose.
Kaminey is a great looking film. It’s dark and atmospheric; there’s nothing neon or glossy about it. And its fight scenes are gritty and believable, without being gory.
But the convoluted plot gets in the way of everything. You practically need a flow chart to keep track of who’s stolen what from whom, and who’s ultimately supposed to receive which stolen goods.
Then there are the aforementioned language differences. Charlie’s f-for-s substitutions are pretty meaningless to those who don’t understand Hindi. He occasionally utters some altered English words, like “fortcut” and “Fweety” in place of “shortcut” and “Sweety.” I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be funny, but I found it more distracting than amusing.
Also troublesome is the subplot of Sweety’s angry gangster brother, Chopper Bhope. He objects to Guddu marrying his sister because Guddu is originally from “U.P.” — and that won’t fly with the Maharashtra constituents Bhope needs to win over as he tries to become a politician.
This conflict doesn’t mean much to the average American, who probably doesn’t know that U.P. refers to Uttar Pradesh, which, as with Maharashtra, is an Indian state. (My fellow Midwesterners need not worry that Bhope holds anything against residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.) It’s not the movie’s fault that Americans are bad with world geography, but there were points during the film when I tuned out, resolving to visit Wikipedia when I got home, to look up references I didn’t get.
Because of these problems, it’s hard for me to say whether Kaminey is actually a good movie. It didn’t work for me, but it might be great if you understand Hindi and have a better handle on geography than I do. The best endorsement I can give is that I find director Vishal Bhardwaj’s visual style is interesting enough that I’m going to rent some of his prior movies.