Cast: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee
Directed by Sujoy Ghosh
“Computers are like a cycle for the mind,” is something the late Steve Jobs once said. His analogy works just as well for suspense thrillers. Some love them for the uneasiness of being unsure of what will happen next, others enjoy putting the pieces together before the climax. And if they can’t, they love it even more. ‘Kahaani’, with a few loose ends, manages to score with an ‘unpredictable end’ but the tension on the screen doesn’t translate into an anxious audience. Not throughout the film at least.
A pregnant woman seeks her absconding husband. She has flown down from London for the very first time to our colonial junkyard- Kolkata, precisely to do that. Now just this as a starting point could be used to terrorize the audience. A strange city full of people speaking an incomprehensible language can be portrayed cinematically through sweeping shots of crowds, flashbacks and noises of the city to create an unwelcome vibe. Or perhaps do the entire scene with no sound but all the drama? The director picks neither. Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan)- the woman in question seems oddly indifferent and only offers a distant look to convey her discomfort as she casually plops into a cab like any other tourist and orders to go straight to the police station. Neat and realistic, if not as dramatic.
Finding a partner in police sub-inspector Rana (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), Vidya lugs her heavily pregnant belly into the underbelly of Kolkata to pursue even a hint of a clue. Often disappointed, her investigation takes a turn for the worst, when she discovers certain inglorious facts about her missing husband. Naturally, this allows for a few emotionally-charged breakdowns but Vidya comes around surprisingly well in the very next scene (the only hint you’ll get in this review).
When her name is localized as Bidya by one and all (In Bengal, V=B in pronunciation and otherwise), it may not be bhery funny but it manages to cut the tension – something thrillers use to amplify the next shocker. And the wait isn’t much, as one revelation follows another as you try to stitch it to a conclusive end in your head. But to no avail.
While references to ‘The Departed’ or other mole thrillers may be easy to point out, it doesn’t have the same appeal. Alphabets pierce through the screen like a semi-automatic that has suddenly gone automatic to mention names, designations and places. But this Hollywood format of offering precise but inconsequential information intermittently on the screen has never been a game-changer in Hindi films and won’t now.
Vidya Balan’s performance will be applauded as she manages the highly intense breakdown scenes as well as the chirpy playful ones with the same ease and excellence. Her companion, assistant and committed to being obedient cop played by Parambrata Chattopadhyay is a strong contender for Best Supporting trophies and might attract curious character roles in Bollywood. Regrettably, Nawazuddin Siddique’s arrogant agent role doesn’t lend him an intimidating or even an abominable image to break into being a regular baddie in Hindi films. That said, it was refreshing that his character was consistently harsh and brash and didn’t have a hidden golden heart unlike most similar characters in other films. A special callout needs to be made for the deliciously devilish contract killer Bob Biswas played by Saswata Chatterjee (the one wearing spectacles in the top picture) who is easily the most terrifying of all in this film.
The cinematography is strictly average and it doesn’t really contribute or take away from any scene. The background score however blends well and that is why you can hardly distinguish it in many crucial scenes. But the ‘Ekla Cholo Re’ by Amitabh Bachchan isn’t any more than a publicity stunt and doesn’t fill up your senses or anything. Hope he doesn’t use it to lull his granddaughter to sleep.
While a thriller’s credibility isn’t equally proportionate to the number of action scenes, the only chase sequence and a couple of point-blank shots fired casually at unsuspecting victims generate enough excitement to keep your eyebrows raised.
The suspense in Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Kahaani’ may not be nail-chewing-worthy but he succeeds in getting Kolkata to perform at its peak and look like it’s on a wire between vintage and decrepit. The overall attitude of the city and the city’s voice is consistent in the story and the characters too. But forcing the goddess Durga metaphor in the end seems less like a tribute and more like ticking every Bengali stereotype imaginable to suggest the shooting location. Long shot of Haaauraah Breej. Close shot of travelling inside a traaam. Bhhictory!
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Check out the making of Kahaani in this video: