Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saswata Chatterjee, Indraneil Sengupta
Storyline: A pregnant woman comes to Kolkata searching for her missing husband as the hunt leads her to a dangerous doppelganger.
Bottomline: A thrilling mind game you don’t mind losing
The most fascinating part of fiction, or as the word ‘story’ classically means, is that it is not real. Just like magic. Or cinema. There’s willing suspension of disbelief involved especially when the storyteller tells you upfront, that he’s going to simply tell you a story.
And reminds you every few scenes that it is just a story – starting from the giveaway of a title and tagline, to the genre itself (on a scale of real to spy thriller, how loophole-free is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, one of the finest and most sophisticated spy thrillers ever made?), comic book type characters (surely you didn’t think a life insurance agent with a silencer gun killing people in public spaces is realistic) to larger than life situations (A gas attack, chases and shootouts through streets, hairpin facilitated break-ins, assorted hack-jobs) reminding you constantly that what you are watching is just pure good old pulp fiction. As any basic course in film studies would teach you that all these “loop-holes” are in fact alienation devices to remind you that you just watching a movie. Or listening to a story with all the visual, animated dramatics of the form. Kahaani is best analysed within the framework/ parameters of the form/ grammar of classic storytelling.
If you start questioning why didn’t Kansa just kill Vasudev or Devaki (or at least one of them) fearing the prophecy that their eighth son will kill him or wondering how they conceived Krishna through mental (and not sexual – because that would lead to fresh loopholes – why did he allow them to have sex for all those years and wait till they produced eight babies!!) transmission, then the mother of all epics – the Mahabharatha itself seems fundamentally flawed. Did you question why an exiled prince built a bridge with an army of monkeys when he could just take a Pushpak Vimana on the way back? Or were aeroplanes a technology only the Lankans had access to? If yes, why not get the spy monkey hijack a plane during the visit there – the one where he burnt all of Lanka? This dude lifted a mountain to save someone, why not just throw the mountain on the enemies and kill them all? We’ve heard this many times before – never let truth come in the way of a good story. The unreal incidents are constant reminders that we are being told a tale.
Sujoy Ghosh makes for a charming storyteller with this finely crafted, rivetingly paced thriller that makes up for realism with plenty of quirks and twists.
Kahaani is just that sort of a mind-game you don’t mind losing because the game is much more entertaining than the end result. Not to take away anything from Ghosh’s end-game, this story just doesn’t unfold, it explodes into the colourful streets of festive Kolkata and expects us to keep picking up the pieces of the jigsaw let loose on screen from scene one.
There’s a lot of misdirection, most of it is smartly done and well-concealed. Most of the twists hit us out like a bolt out of the blue and produce genuine moments of surprise. And we surrender to the storyteller instead of trying to second-guess the film, given the fun he seems to be having in telling us this story of a woman in search of her missing husband in a city she is a complete stranger to.
Ghosh gives us a thriller charged with the electric atmospherics of an exotic city. What is it about Kolkata that inspires filmmakers to set it as a background for suspense films? We explore its mystery through the eyes of Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi (or Biddha Bagchi as the Bengalis call her) and discover the city’s culture and chaos, zipping past it on taxis, trams and trains of Kolkata’s Metro.
It’s that kind of a frenetic ride where you think you know where you are headed only to find yourself at the edge of the platform, pushed right in front of a speeding train! One moment, it’s a dizzying merry-go-round that’s gone out of control, and before you know it, it’s a rollercoaster of a blind chase as the dazzling narrative pieced together by Setu’s energetic cinematography and Namrata Rao’s cuts keeps us hooked all through its moments of inspired, zany madness.
Be it Bob Bishwas (Saswata Chatterjee), the insurance agent who doubles up as a contract killer or the obnoxious rude intelligence officer Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), these are characters destined to be celebrated as ‘cult’ years down the line. Just watching the diminutive Nawazuddin Siddiqui chew up the scenery around him with his powerhouse presence is a delight.
But carrying this baby in her maternity clothes, Vidya Balan has truly arrived. This is no Dirty Picture banking on low-cut blouses. This is the Vidya we have grown to love for her choice of roles and her gumption to do what it takes to get into character. Decades after Rekha, do we have a diva as gifted, an actress so good that she can carry films on the basis of sheer performance, with or without make-up. Yes, I am leaving out Madhuri since I can’t think of films she carried all by herself and Sridevi because I always found her acting way OTT. We totally relate to sub-inspector Rana (the soft-spoken Parambrata Chatterjee) who is happy playing second fiddle, completely in awe of this heroine. We become him, rooting for her throughout the film and discovering the truth through his eyes.
The film does stay on for a few extra minutes than required to spell out the mystery, a decision likely to attract criticism. But having heard from people who still have doubts and questions, maybe it was warranted. It’s not every day do we get a suspense thriller that demands us to keep thinking and re-evaluate everything we have been told to check for loose ends. Surely he must have dropped a ball juggling all those things or didn’t he?
Updated: A second watch confirms he hasn’t. In fact, it is the second watch that shows you how brilliant the film really is for the way it made your memory play tricks with you. You thought you saw her husband’s face in every flashback after a first watch? Watch again.
Catch it before someone gives the ending away. Chances are you will want to watch it again. What a finely spun yarn this is! Mast-must watch.