(This article is published in http://www.fwa.co.in/SitePages/Kahaani.aspx)
“Kahaani” heavily pitched and expected as a Vidya Balan film, following the grand success of “The Dirty Picture”, ends up emerging as “Jhankar Beats” writer/director, Sujoy Ghosh’s film all the way. Keeping aside expectations of a mastermind mystery, “Kahaani” is a deeply engaging whodunit story.
Mystery genre is usually a tricky genre which very few filmmakers in India have mastered without resorting to amateurish sound effect techniques and silly gimmicks. Sujoy Ghosh with his carefully thought out plot comes up a winner in both story and direction. A good director needs to get two basics right before he takes his crew to the sets; casting and script. “Kahaani” has a good plot and fantastic casting(Roshmi Banerjee).Every character, right from the contract killer to a regular constable to a chaiwala kid to that of Vidya Balan as a determined pregnant woman in search of her missing husband, is well cast with the exception of the actor who plays Vidya’s husband(best unrevealed).
The movie opens to very quick shots of a deadly gas experiment on rats, moves quickly to an everyday scene in the noisy Kalighat metro railway station in Kolkata. Seconds later, thousands are dead inside a local train. The terrorist mastermind remains unarrested. The soundtrack to the opening credits, and Usha Uthup’s strong voice singing “ Kolkata strong hai, powerful hai, phir bhi laachaar hai..aami shoti bolchi..”(lyrics,Anvita Dutt Guptan) ,sets an exciting tone to the movie. Next we see a heavily pregnant woman arrive at Kolkata, struggle with her baggage and take a cab straight to the police station. Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi,constantly mispronounced as Bidya (there is a lot weaved in with the typical Bengali way with names), reports the case of her missing husband.A willing, ever helpful and sweet constable, Rana (Parambrata Chattopadhyay, very engaging,)who is 6 months into his job, gets involved with her search.Rapidly, an entire slew of characters including the arrogant intelligence officer Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, powerful presence)adding spice with his rude conversations, harmless and insipid looking contract killer Bob Biswas(Saswata Chatterjee, brilliant)come alive in this intriguing tale of the missing husband who apparently has a resemblance to the missing terrorist.
Here is a woman, walking tirelessly with a huge baby bump, tense over the increasing impossible task of finding her husband, sometimes naughty with the constable and kids, a resourceful hacker and lock breaker, a software analyst and terribly angry and vulnerable all rolled into one. Who can resist such a character? The gripping narrative peels off layers after layers and gets you totally involved with Bidya’s Arnab Bagchi and you end up joining the by now smitten cop, the “running water” (boy running with hot water kettle in a seedy guesthouse)and chaiwala kid in the suspenseful search. This kind of instant audience involvement is a sure sign of good storytelling.
A mystery genre demands certain settings that include shady motels and suspicious characters and works only if the suspense revealed in the end is satisfying enough. “Kahaani” uses these devices well and spins an engrossing story(written by Ghosh and Advait Kala, additional screenplay/dialogues Suresh Nair, Nikhil Vyas and Sutapa Sikdar), chasing another story chasing more stories. The crucial ending though falls short of disappointing with a twist that leaves you feeling cheated, borders on being almost over the top and dramatic and succeeds purely because of the emotional content and justification given and performed convincingly.
The film skillfully weaves in the emotional quotient with the plot, replete with heartwarming small interactions with minor characters, lifts it above an average script and ensures that it doesn’t become just another forgettable ‘whodunit’ plot. Kolkata is used beautifully as the city where Durga is worshipped as the ultimate mother who destroys all evil and adds a meaningful though clichéd dimension to Vidya’s strength as woman. The famous track of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Ekla Chalo Re” in AB’s fabulous voice, is used at the right moment when Vidya finds herself most alone and looks down from her window at Durga’s diety being carried across the bustling busy street, as if seeking divine intervention.
The movie is a constant reminder of Kolkata’s energy with its yellow taxis, cutting chai, double names, sweet human interactions, red, bordered white sarees, big bindis, old buildings, and crowded bylanes.
The use of handheld camera movements with brief shots of the Howrah Bridge and few stunning images of Durga(Setu)as well as rapid edits(Namrata Rao) are good though a bit distracting. The sound (Sanjay Mourya,Allwyn Rego)background score and music (Vishal Shekhar)complements the script very well, especially in the chase sequences complete with real, short, fight scenes in the crowded alleys of the city.
With this film, Vidya Balan emerges yet again as a one woman show who can carry a film without a hero and make it a success. The girl who started her career as a rejected bride in Parinita, got lost in between after Munnabhai and found her way back with experimental daring roles in Ishqiya, Paa and The Dirty Picture, is here to defy every rule in the casting book, sans makeup, sporting unkempt hair and a huge belly bulge.
Watch this one heroine film that delivers several heroes- script, direction, great supporting actors. Do make sure you don’t leave the hall until you hear the entire track of “ekla chaalo re” playing with the closing credits.