The Significance of Kaminey

There is an interesting review of the movie Kaminey, titled Social Dystopia or Entrepreneurial Fantasy: The Significance of Kaminey (here), by M.K. Raghavendra, film critic and scholar, in the September 19, 2009 issue of the EPW. Raghavendra reviews the content of the movie, particularly the portrayal of law and morality and its “perceived” enjoyment by society (mainly, the “intelligentsia”) and discusses the implications of such portrayal and enjoyment. Raghavendra makes the following points:
1. The movie portrays justice as an idle dream and that the law is an agent of corruption;
2. Kaminey maybe the first Indian movie to evict law-abiding people from the domain of the story as they appear to exist only to be taken advantage of; the underworld has become the world and it would appear that everyone is somehow implicated in criminality;
3. The movie is celebratory in its approach to corruption and social decay; while one of the main protagonists is law-abiding, it is shown as a quirk rather than a moral quality;
4. The vision promoted by the movie may be roughly described as “social Darwinism”-that society is a lawless jungle in which only the fittest survive and one’s fitness is commensurate with one’s willingness to shred moral principles;
5. The portrayal of the law in Kaminey is unprecedented in Indian cinema as it portrays policemen as acting only for themselves and not even nominally engaged in enforcing the law;
6. The fact that the movie is being enjoyed suggests some strange kind of satisfaction in the fantasy of a crumbling social structure in which a person has only two options- either eat or be eaten; and
7. The world of Kaminey is dehistoricised because it treats its own vision of “people as kaminey” not as the creation of historical circumstances, but as an eternally valid philosophy for “pragmatists”. It is a depoliticised world in which even politics is only “enterprise”. Kaminey gives us an entrepreneurial fantasy for the upwardly mobile urban classes (the author explains in detail the focus on the urban classes), disguised as a social dystopia.
I do not know if some of the conclusions (in 6&7 above) that Raghavendra draws are correct or not and whether we can impute the fantasy to society at large. From the days of Plato, there has been a debate about whether art can (a) actually reflect the complex realities of society in an accurate manner; and (b) provide desirable and correct suggestions to people on how to address complex problems they face. Clearly, Kaminey does not satisfy (b), as it does not actually provide any desirable solution to the problems it portrays. However, it is in the portrayal of the problem itself that Kaminey probably scores, as it sets out the problems of morality, law and law enforcement in India in a realistic, albeit grotesque, manner. It is difficult, and probably impossible, for scholars and academics to capture the emotional consequences of failure of the rule of law and morals in their discourse on legal and moral principles and case laws. It is the realm of literature and art that help us understand how the failure of law and morals plays out in society. From that perspective, Kaminey is certainly a novel and unusual experience.

Written by
Harish Narsappa
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1 comment
  • i am not sure i would agree also with the conclusion drawn at point 6 because a movie may be enjoyed not necessarily on the aspect of whether it depicts truth pertaining to the society or not, but also for the way it has been picturised and etc.- the usual works.

    kaminey, at its core, is a story of two brothers; one good and the other bad- a premise which was even the basis of the hugely successful deewar also.

    what perhaps, among other things sets kaminey apart is its treatment- its a raw, non sugar coated approach to the way things are and and i would agree seems to propagate the principle of social Darwinism. the gritty and episodicc nature of the movie, especially in the beginning may also appeal to cinema viewers; given that we have always almost been fed the gangster films sugar coated.