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.
Simmmmmply AMMMMAZING!!! The Vasudev-Devki part ws funny!
A truly intriguing movie. Leaves you smacking your lips with the sheer masti of it. Superbly captured in this review.
Agreed its good old world pulp fiction. Need a second watch. The dot about the peacock at the monalisa guest house remained unconnected. My review http://cinemathatmatters.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/a-kahaani-worth-remembering/#respond
That’s a fairly easy one. The peacock is at a public place that everyone has access to. Working with the top most intelligence agent in the country gets you access to information more private than that.
Do you realise If they didn’t reveal Vidya’s Sobbish backstory, we could have had alternate endings for the film? but then again Indian audiences need everything laid out and the thinking to be done for them.
didn’t you feel cheated with the flashbacks? i mean if the flashbacks were from vidya bagchi’s viewpoint, i as an audience is definitely being lied to. and that is just not acceptable – u can confuse me, misdirect me, try to put me in a big loop, twist my kind with illusions… but you cannot lie to me.
You were not lied to. It’s your memory playing tricks. You think you saw something you didn’t. Watch it the second time to see the brilliance. You only see a face when she’s narrating/lying to someone. When she’s thinking alone, we don’t see the face of her husband.
As usual, good review…but the initial part of the review dragged for me, just as you thought the film was extra in length. 🙂
Loved and enjoyed the movie… I am not the one who goes out to find the loopholes but I don’t understand why wasn’t she killed by the insurance agent in that metro station. Before the ending I thought it was because her husband (who was controlling insurance agent) didn’t want to kill her despite him being in the underworld, but just wants to scare her away and stop her from doing any more investigation.
Of course, in every movie the hero is threatened and left un-killed for no reason only to be killed by the very hero.
Hey, building bridge wasn’t as un-purposeful as you think – you only said, he could have used pushpak viman on “return” journey… but how to take the entire army to Lanka during the onward journey ? And the monkey himself not killing by himself, is because it has to be Lord Rama’s killing and is well reasoned.
I guess, the reason Kansa didn’t kill vasudev or devaki, was because he didn’t want to kill his sister and brother-in-law as long as he had situation in control killing the newborns (with whom he presumably had less emotional attachment). Also, with any of these mythological stories, one can always stop at “it was pre-determined by the Lord” logic 😛
I mean, the reason itself may be “illogical” or “nonsense” but I am OK as long as it has been thought out and reasoned.