Kaalakaandi had to postpone its release date indefinitely. CBFC denied it the right to release, considering it scandalous and vulgar. But unlike the buzz of a Padmaavat or even Udta Punjab, the film came out terribly unobtrusive. It did not benefit from what could have been a publicity stunt.
It was released in January between a mediocre horror series (1921) and the latest Kashyap creation but just as ignored by the public (Mukkabaaz). But beyond its anonymous release and its failure in theaters, Kaalakaandi also did not convince the critics with very average or sometimes negative ratings.
There were a few exceptions, including Aamir Khan who expressed his love for the film on social networks. And yet we could have great hopes seeing such a talented cast filmed by the screenwriter of the cult Delhi Belly. Especially as this new project also typed in the dark and provocative humor that made the triumph of his previous film.
Rileen (Saif Ali Khan), a man of exemplary lifestyle, learns that he has end-stage stomach cancer on his brother's wedding day. Destroyed by the news, he decides to commit all the excesses they had hitherto forbidden, from alcohol to LSD. A hallucinatory night has just begun.
So is Kaalakaandi vulgar falsely transgressive or underestimated nugget? The character of Saif Ali Khan crosses a calm and dull Mumbai driving his car. The serious look, no music, locked between the doors of his luxury vehicle and the gates of a bridge that seems to hold him prisoner.
The very first seconds of Kaalakaandi is marked by its sobriety and the seriousness. It only needs a few seconds to ask us the psychology of the main character. A man living until then a limited existence, comfortable but without any real pleasure out of a meticulously drawn frame.
And when the news falls, the reaction is sadly laughable. He justifies himself, rationalizes, accuses the space cake that his friends had given him unbeknownst to him being younger. Until he fell into an awkward vulgarity that he did not even fully assume.
He apologizes quickly as if to recall that he still does not believe that staying in the ranks still makes sense. And behind his simple, rather classical look in the execution, Kaalakaandi has just set the scene with force. It already demonstrates an obvious mastery in its director.
It will also be one of the major strengths of the film to say things without seeming. Because if many remember Delhi Belly as a major comedy, the force is to recognize that it had no major message to tell. Yes, there was the talk of the confinement of traditions, of social hypocrisy, and of many subjects returning to Kaalakaandi, but everything remained on the surface.
All was just an excuse to follow on the next punchline, the next laughter of the viewer. Here, that is not the case. Lovers of mainstream humor will be too offended to laugh heartily anyway. Even those who were expecting trashy and bold humor after a trailer that was not subtle may be disappointed.
Because if Kaalakaandi contains a lot of hilarious sequences and is clearly positioned in a current politically incorrect compared to everything from Indian comedy, the film focuses primarily on its story. Humor will come from situations and reactions. It will often slip with subtlety behind a dramatic sequence.
We will laugh embarrassed by the misery of people. There are random and catastrophic reactions that follow one another. The top of this tribute to the two filmmakers will be made in the last minutes of the feature film where quiet poetry rubs absurd violence hazardous.
On the humor side, do not expect the slapstick nor the vulgar ones. Even sequences that could have easily gone into bad taste always seem (with few exceptions) to emerge with the story. The pun is justified but sometimes improbable.
What seemed to be a pretext for humor at the bottom of the belt when the character of Akshay Oberoi receives the fiery call of an ex will become an existential questioning of a man in prey to doubts the night of his wedding. The long sequence of the escape of Saif Ali Khan with a transgender will also avoid the many possible pitfalls.
It turns into a lesson of life and the strange complicity that the two characters discover is one of the highlights of the film. Even one of the first sequences of vulgar and stupid appearance showing Neil Bhoopalam accidentally shooting himself in the testicles while playing cowboy in front of his TV finds his way into the story.
So yes, it's not always an end. Some sequences would have won in subtlety. Kaalakaandi is already very strong in mixing poetry with ugliness. The poetry is seemingly gratuitous and comes out almost inevitably. And then with the detour of some sequences, the film also allows moments of lighter laughter, in particular with the dialogue on Emraan Hashmi, a mixture of absurdity and repetition.
For poetry, it is both obvious and subtle. Sometimes overtly visual, she transpires hallucinatory shots showing us what Saif sees once the LSD takes effect. Certainly, it would be better without the messages imposed by the CBFC that spoil the unity of the plans. The special effects are not extraordinary.
Some scenes remain superb like the water rising in the elevator and the imaginary waterfall near the pool. There are so many shots that mark the eye of the viewer and release an unexpected depth. What is appreciable is the honesty with which Akshat Verma approaches psychotropic visions.
Rather than looking for realism or falling into the ridicule of the man who does not know what he is talking about and who is filming LSD such as he imagines, he immediately takes a dreamlike postulate that borders on the fantastic. It makes us understand that what we see is not so much the fruit of a hallucinogenic drug that the new look that a man at the end of life on what surrounds it.
The prospect of an imminent end leads him to push his limits but gives him this new vision. It is a sort of filter of denial behind which everything is luminous and magical. The subject of Kaalakaandi is not the drug but rather the look. The look at our life, our conscience, our guilt, our past. Emancipate yourself or be a prisoner of your eyes, this is the choice that all characters will have to make.
And poetry is also spawning a place in the unsaid. All the nonverbal communication, the secrets, and wounds that one guesses behind the character of Saif, but also in characters more secondary. The flight ahead of Sobhita Dhulipala also hits hard with appreciable sensitivity.
Of course, Kaalakaandi is not perfect. The film seems to juggle with too many characters and tries to justify them with a rather superficial link. But again this has its advantages since the different stories all provide a reading grid at least interesting. We could locate four main narrative arcs.
Saif and his hallucinated flight will lead to three major interactions. It is with his brother, the transgender and the photographer, Akshay Oberoi. There is his crucial questioning concerning the future of the couple, Sobhita and the stakes of his flight ahead. Finally the duo Vijay Raaz and Deepak Dobriyal who seems to serve only a comic spring. It is not always convincing before justifying their presence as the story advances.
What is also surprising is the gradually serious tone that the film adopts. Despite some flashes here and there the final brilliantly illustrate the comical tragedy that has been played all along. The more we advance and the more the crazy humor is calm. Be careful, not that the film falls into a wise and linear story, far from it! Its madness remains intact but it takes the time to focus on the psychological development of his characters.
For the actors, nothing to complain about. Saif Ali Khan flies over the film with a delirious performance, hallucinating and touching. Few actors of his rank would have accepted a role of being under LSD during about 80% of the story all with a more than particular look in the second part!
But it proves once again that the experimental cinema is doing very well. Too often underestimated, Saif is one of the major talents of the Hindi industry and proves it again. Akshay Oberoi is convincing. Sobhita Dhulipala captivates with charisma and talent. She confirms that her debut in Raman Raghav 2.0 indeed announced a new great actress unearthed by Kashyap.
Vijay Raaz is an actor for whom I have immense sympathy and he delivers here once again a solid performance with his unique charisma. Deepak Dobriyal is standing up to him. Isha Talwar is a promising photographer, an outsider in Saif's eye-gazing story. Kunaal Roy Kapur confirms that he masters the role of the friendly son-in-law to whom one can only want good.
On the other hand, we will emphasize the talent of Amyra Dastur who only needs a few lines of dialogue to confirm her total lack of ability to play comedy. In the end, Kaalakaandi is a really good surprise. I was hoping for a film with a rather vulgar but friendly black humor. I attended a black comedy that offers real moments of poetry and strong existential reflections.
The experiment is too nerdy for the general public. The comedy is too trashy and irreverent for fans of more legitimate films. The film could only be rejected because it lacks a target audience. And that's exactly what makes it unique and endearing. It does not look like anything and does not try to imitate anything!
Akshat Verma is perhaps only in his first direction but he will undoubtedly gain to be followed very closely. Thanks to its solid story, its careful direction, Kaalakaandi, therefore, joins the list of Indian quirks that make you want to continue to love the cinema of this country. It is one of those uncalibrated products that are bursting with creative freedom. Lovers of genre cinema and original experiences, do not miss this chance!