Before heading over to Bollywood, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury had already made a name for himself in the Bengali film industry with movies like Anuranan, Antaheen, and Aparajita Tumi, all three of which were dramas. Then, Roy Chowdhury shifted gears and stepped into the thriller-crime genre with Buno Haansh, and it was really apparent that Aniruddha didn’t have the skills to pull it off. He followed that up with Pink, which became a critical and commercial hit, spawning multiple remakes. But the retrospective reviews weren’t kind to it as we could see through its “male savior” complex and the abysmal filmmaking. Aniruddha made his return to the big screen during last year’s International Film Festival of India with Lost, and that ended up being a dud. The director has arrived at another edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) with his latest film, Kadak Singh, and let’s just say, things aren’t looking really good.
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Kadak Singh is based on a story written by Chowdhury, Viraf Sarkari, and Ritesh Shah, with Shah serving as the screenwriter as well. It follows one of the best officers of the Department of Financial Crimes (DFC), A.K. Srivastava, who is suffering from retrograde amnesia. Srivastava slowly remembers that he had a wife, and he had a son. He doesn’t recognize his daughter, Sakshi. And he doesn’t know why he can remember only some parts of his life. So, Sakshi narrates the events that led to Srivastava’s hospitalization. Noyona, Srivastava’s love interest, enters the picture to present her take on what caused him to lose his memory. While Sakshi and Noyona give a peek into Srivastava’s personal life, his junior at the DFC, Arjun, talks about his professional life. Srivastava’s boss, Tyagi, adds to this angle by sharing his thoughts on the man’s professional journey so far. Armed with all this information, Srivastava has to solve the puzzle around his amnesia with the help of his nurse, Ms. Kannan, since she’s the only neutral party in this mess.
The writers of Kadak Singh want to talk about abusive families. They want to talk about dutiful and misunderstood fathers. Then, they want to talk about unresolved guilt. After that, they want to talk about drug abuse. They also want to talk about giving love a second chance after one’s marriage is over. On top of all that, they want to talk about chit-fund scams and how dishonest government employees can exacerbate the already miserable condition of the poor and the needy. So, I don’t think anybody will be surprised if I say that the movie is a mess. If you are feeling generous, you can commend the effort to tackle so many topics in one movie. But what’s the point? The characters are hollow. The exploration of the aforementioned themes is shallower than you can imagine. In fact, the writers manage to resolve just one of the themes, while the rest are kind of ignored. The dialogue is amateurish and yet so endless that it will probably make your ears bleed with its constant exposition. To be clear, I’m not anti-exposition; I just hate badly written expository dialogue that doesn’t sound conversational.
Roy Chowdhury’s direction in Kadak Singh is pretty bad. Like every other person in the world, he definitely saw Rashomon and Memento and thought to himself that he had the capability to emulate Akira Kurosawa and Christopher Nolan’s styles in a made-for-OTT film. But there’s a massive chasm that exists in one’s vision and one’s talent, and Roy Chowdhury is unable to bridge that gap with, well, anything. He makes the bizarre decision to make his more-than-capable cast sit and talk for at least 90 percent of the film. That’s fine. Sidney Lumet made one of the best movies of all time where people just sat and talked, i.e., 12 Angry Men. But where Lumet and his team moved the camera in dynamic ways, used purposeful lighting, and edited every verbal altercation to perfection, Roy Chowdhury and his team of professionals are so frivolous about it. Even when there are two people in a room, it’s lit and edited so poorly that it’ll prompt an existential crisis within you about the state of Hindi cinema. The pacing was so sluggish that I didn’t even want to know what it was leading up to. And to make matters worse, the film has a background score whose sole purpose seems to be to induce a headache.
The acting in Kadak Singh is (mostly) atrocious. I am not doubting the capabilities of the actors. I am sure they are all really talented. But Roy Chowdhury elicits absolutely nothing out of them. Pankaj Tripathi is indeed one of the most talented actors working in Bollywood, even though his recent choices are quite dicey. And as the titular character, he is so bland. He doesn’t get a single line of dialogue or a single scene that truly tests his range. He does what he has always done, and that’s about it. Sanjana Sanghi gets a scene where she has a complete mental breakdown in the middle of the street, and her words are unintelligible, thereby giving her character so much authenticity. Unfortunately, that’s the only moment where she comes alive in the film. Parvathy Thiruvothu is completely wasted. I have no clue why she even agreed to do this role. What did she see in it? Now, that’s a mystery worth solving. The same can be said about Jaya Ahsan. You can see how brilliant she is in the Bengali films that she has done. In this Hindi film, it looks like she doesn’t know how to act. Paresh Pahuja is extremely one-note. Dilip Shankar is fine, I guess, and so is the rest of the supporting cast. That said, it is wild that in a dialogue-heavy movie, there’s not a single scene that allows the cast to swing for the fences and do something memorable.
Kadak Singh is a film that has all the right ideas, but they are presented in such a juvenile and crude way that the very act of watching it feels pointless. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. People make bad films; we consume them, and that’s that. What is not fine is the practice of populating your premiere at an international film festival with “cheerleaders” who coronate the movie for being awesome instead of waiting for the audience’s verdict. It’s a common thing that happens in a lot of press screenings where the team behind the movie wants the viewers to feel positively about what they’ve watched before they can formulate their own thoughts. If the movie is any good, the claps and cheers don’t feel manipulative. However, in this case, I think they didn’t check the genre or understand the tone of the film, thereby making the manipulation extremely obvious. I am sure the cast and crew of Kadak Singh who were present at the IFFI screening of the film would’ve benefited from an honest audience response, but their own people have robbed them of that opportunity. Now, they’ve to read this review, I guess.