This movie is a multiple narrative perspective on life in Mumbai, similar in structure and theme to ‘Life in a…. Metro’, but very different in purpose, intention and style. There are three social networks presented in the movie, and in two of them people speak largely in English. Only in one story, that has two gangsters (Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz) dreaming of making quick bucks from their Don employer, is Hindi spoken; and that too the ‘tapori’ version of the language on the streets of the city.
‘Kaalakaandi’, which, in local Mumbai jargon, means mayhem, or things going horribly wrong, begins with the unthinkable happening to a jet setting, corporate type. He is told that he has stomach cancer and only a few months to live. Played by Saif Ali Khan, the guy is astounded because he doesn’t smoke or drink and has no bad habits. ‘Why me?’ is his query to the universe, but after he recovers from the initial shock, he goes to a party and asks for drugs from a ‘friend’, actually a kind of entertainment operator floating around in Mumbai who makes easy cash by peddling hard core stuff at parties. He is handed an orange star like tablet, an apparent hallucinogenic, that takes a little time to react. The first effect hits him after he leaves the party in a car, and it is quite wild. Lucy is in the sky with diamonds. He sees dolphins on marine drive, cartoon characters appearing and disappearing across the windscreen. The soft car radio turns into loud disco music. The scenes are a vivid description of hallucinogenic visuals and sounds, and reminds one, hilariously, of what happens to the Leonardo DiCaprio character when he takes quaaludes in ‘The Wolf on Wall Street’ and then tries to get into a car.
Saif Ali Khan’s character is the only fully developed one in the film. In his story, while under the influence, he meets a transgender hooker (Nary Singh) on the street, gets friendly with her and then expresses the uncontrollable desire to see what is underneath her dress, the treasure down South, as he puts it, way below, at the Cape of her Good Hope. Eventually, she takes a shine to him and gives him the joyride he is looking for. It is a convincing act, and the only one that works in the film.
The other sets of characters merely exist as Mumbai types. There is a couple caught in the eternal dilemma of the upwardly mobile educated class. Can she (Sobhita Dhulipala) go for further studies to America and resist the temptation of sleeping with pretty white boys while she is there? She is flying out that night and her boyfriend (Kunaal Roy Kapur) is convinced that the boys are going to be swarming around her like bees, the moment she lands in New York. Does she love him enough to resist? Can he trust her?
The humour in ‘Kaalakaandi’ is of a niche kind that would appeal to those in the know of Mumbai’s linguistic mix, and the sub-texts thereof. The film is funny in specific contexts, but, overall, the interlinked stories pass no real comment on the quality of life in this heterogenous metropolis. The movie drifts along nicely, until you get a little tired, and wish that it all leads to a quick and rousing conclusion. Unfortunately, that does not happen.