A Bollywood take on Reservoir Dogs with a strong helping of “The Usual Suspects” on the side–complete with the requisite singing and dancing interludes–sounds, to put it mildly, unusual. So much credit is due writer-director Sanjay Gupta, who manages to conform to the tried-and-true Hindi masala film formula and respect the spirit of the source material in “Kaante.”
The first half of the film (which is the first Indian production to be shot entirely in Los Angeles) more closely resembles the Bryan Singer film than the Quentin Tarantino, with six “usual suspect” crooks (Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Sunil Shetty, Mahesh Manjrekar, Kumar Gaurav and Lucky Ali) meeting up in jail after being picked up on suspicion of stealing a truck. While in a holding cell, the six devise a plan to strike back against the cops: robbing a bank that services the police force. The first act climaxes with the heist, and following the intermission, the film traces the aftermath, which largely takes place in–yes–an abandoned warehouse.
A good thirty-minute chunk of this second half will be déjà vu for “Dogs” fans, as the characters’ true colors–if you get my drift–come clear; the entrance of the mostly Mr. Blonde-ish character is lifted wholesale, as are some of his lines of dialogue. But Gupta ultimately uses this as a mere launch pad for his own spin on the familiar story. There is more extensive backstory for all of the characters (undoubtedly a product in part of the longer run time), not to mention this is more of a straight action film than either of the original films. In the big blow-’em-up set pieces, Gupta reveals a number of other influences aside from Singer, Christopher McQuarrie (after whom a cop character is named) and Tarantino, namely John Woo, Michael Bay and the general Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic. Evoking the latter two may not necessarily be a good thing in general, but the slick Tinseltown-level sheen works in this context and is especially noteworthy given the slapdash nature of a lot of Bollywood productions.
In fact, the Western sensibility was perhaps too strongly in mind in the making of “Kaante.” The producers’ plan is shop an edited version for a wider North American arthouse release, and as such the musical numbers have obviously been designed for easy removal–that is, what few musical numbers there are; there are only three total, two of which are largely focused on female back-up dancers rather than prominent characters. But the MTV-esque numbers do not upset the overall tone of the film, and they indeed get the entertaining job done (after all, how can one not resist a drunken song-and-dance by the guys in that familiar warehouse the night before the heist?) as well as show that if Gupta ever wants to cross over into Hollywood, he is equally suited to the realm of music video as he is to slam-bang action.
In the meantime, though, Gupta proves to be right at home in Bollywood with “Kaante,” which is as seamless and effective a mix of Bombay and Hollywood genre conventions as they come.