According to Anurag Kashyap, the director of the striking yet rather disorderly Hindi language Covid-cop thriller, Kennedy, his leading man, Rahul Bhat, was not the first choice to embody the film’s eponymous murderous insomniac. The part was written with Chiyaan Vikram in mind, the actor’s moniker lending the role and the film its title. However, by the grace of chance and misdirected emails, Bhat’s performance anchors Kennedy in a twisted, muscular sensibility that embodies the corruption and violence at the heart of its story, even when its narrative gets tangled in a web of its own making.
Kennedy is the nickname of Uday Shetty, an insomniac ex-cop whose reputation in Mumbai for brutality led to the city’s police service faking his death in an effort to appease the public, while still making use of his feared methods. In a milieu in which the Covid-19 lockdown has threatened the usual flow of money through the illicit framework of the city’s power structures, Kennedy’s services have never been more necessary to those who guard the gates of corruption.
It’s an intriguingly urgent update to the noir formula, while Kashyap revels in the tropes of the genre. Presumed dead, Kennedy is a literal manifestation of the “dead man walking”, a violent, guilt-ridden street operator, scouring the corrupt city for redemption, Kashyap’s Mumbai is one in which business is conducted almost exclusively during the night, and Sunny Leone’s Charlie ticks the final, femme fatale inscribed box. Kashyap weaves some sequences with striking, carefully composed fits of violence, and, reinforced by Bhat’s committed, often disquieting performance, constructs a character who is equal parts repulsive and intriguing.
What doesn’t work so well is the film’s narrative, whose winding trajectory dilutes the very themes that make it interesting to begin with. A shorter, leaner cut of this feature would have sustained its comment on a very specific incarnation of police corruption with greater precision. Still, Kennedy is not without its bite, and foreshadows a growing, mainstream appetite for Indian cinema abroad.
Kennedy does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for Kennedy here: