Imagine a freewheeling Bollywood version of a Guy Ritchie seriocomic caper and you’re ready for “Kaminey,” a tasty cinematic masala that is energetically entertaining, if not consistently coherent, while charting the misadventures of estranged twin brothers (both played by “Kismat Konnection” star Shahid Kapoor) who are repeatedly mistaken for each other by heavily armed antagonists. A strong B.O. performer in India since its Aug. 14 opening, multihyphenate Vishal Bhardwaj’s slick and stylish musical dramedy could claim respectable coin internationally as well.
As the specifics of plot and character gradually emerge from the fog of the pic’s confusing opening scenes, auds will be able to discern that, despite their physical similarities, siblings Charlie and Guddu share only a desire to rise above their humble beginnings in the slums of Mumbai.
They move in different worlds, driven by different ambitions: Guddu hopes to achieve middle-class respectability with a meticulously plotted climb up the corporate ladder; Charlie consorts with gangsters and dreams of making a quick killing to become a legit bookie. Even their speech impediments are dissimilar: Guddu stammers, Charlie has a slight lisp.
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The first links in a chain of coincidences and contrivances are forged when Guddu receives some bad news from his aptly named girlfriend, Sweety (Priyanka Chopra): She is pregnant, with Guddu’s child. Unfortunately, this development is bound to upset her domineering brother, Bhope (Amole Gupte), who already has promised his sister to a well-connected suitor.
Meanwhile, Charlie backs himself into an even tighter spot when he sets out to punish a double-dealing jockey and winds up leaving the scene of the crime in the car of two crooked cops with ties to a powerful drug lord (Tenzing Nima). When Charlie finds a stash of cocaine in the vehicle’s backseat, he thinks he’s caught a lucky break. He is gravely mistaken.
One thing leads to another — the crooked cops grab the innocent Guddu, Bhope’s underlings snatch the not-so-innocent Charlie — as complications arise and the pace accelerates. The forward momentum is interrupted only by the occasional song-and-dance sequence, the best of which is a ’70s-flavored number that has Charlie and partner-in-crime Mikhail (scene-stealing Chandan Roy Sanyal) prematurely celebrating their planned sale of the pilfered cocaine. By contrast, a climactic shootout is enhanced to a surprising degree by seriously dramatic musical accompaniment.
Helmer Bhardwaj, who composed the pic’s songs (with lyricist Gulzar) and co-wrote the script, peppers “Kaminey” with a variety of visual flourishes, including one recurring image — Charlie’s fantasy of himself running alongside race horses — that is almost surreally beautiful. Lensing by Tassaduq Hussain is aces throughout.
Thesping is uneven: The beautiful Chopra comes across as unnecessarily strident in some scenes, loosening her grip on aud sympathy. But Kapoor impressively displays sufficiently variegated degrees of emotional intensity to sustain the illusion of two distinct characters. Just as important, he provides each sibling an appropriately elevated hunkiness quotient.
Pic’s title roughly translates as “Rascals.”