Kahaani: A Review
Kahaani – Dir: Sujoy Ghosh; *ing: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chattopadhay, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sasawata Chatterjee
Scent of a city
For many of us, the region of Bengal has long held a certain fascination. After all, its cultural and artistic arena has produced some of South-Asia’s (and the world’s) most renowned and admired figures, from Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chatterjee and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhay, to Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Messrs. Burmans Sr. and Jr. Further on the cinematic front, people like Hemant Kumar, brothers Kishore and Ashok Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Sharmila Tagore and Jaya Bachchan neé Bhaduri, are also Bengali. What does that have to do with the movie under review? Well, apart from the fact that its writer and director is a ‘Bong’ (as people from the region often refer to themselves), perhaps not all that much on the surface, but if you scratch at it a little, it becomes apparent why the setting of Kolkatta is so appropriate and, in fact, key to the story. Yes, Kahaani is a suspense thriller, but as the backdrop, the Bengali capital comes to glorious life as it unfurls before our eyes: a shape-shifting city, steeped in history and tradition but also a living, breathing, thriving entity, standing at the threshold of ‘modern’ India, its bustling streets and labyrinthine alleyways giving off an almost irresistible aura of seductive mystery. What better venue, then, for a story that also offers up comparable twists and turns as it leads us into the heart of darkness?
Vidya Bagchi (Balan) arrives in dusty, musty Kolkatta from London, heavily pregnant and in search of her husband who has gone missing while on an assignment in the city. Trouble is, no trace seems to exist to suggest that there even is or was such a man in the first place. When, aided by sympathetic and also somewhat infatuated police officer Satyoki (Chattopadhay), Vidya inadvertently becomes embroiled in the unsolved case of a terrorist attack on the Kolkatta subway two years prior, she must contend with ruthless IB officer Khan (Siddiqui), hot on the trail of that attack’s mastermind, and also sad sack-faced, creepy gun-for-hire Bob (Chatterjee). Every turn she takes seems to take her further and further down Alice’s rabbit-hole where nothing and no one is quite what they seem to be.
What puts Kahaani a notch or three above your run-of-the-mill Bollywood thriller is its characters and its stylization. Vidya is reminiscent of Marge Gunderson from the Coen Bros.’ cult classic Fargo: a woman in what is possibly her most vulnerable physical state just getting on with the task at hand, driven purely by gut and grit. And by now, who else but Balan could you expect to play such a part? She has become utterly fearless in her choices as an actor, and grapples the difficult part with ferocity, coming off steely, and sympathetic, yes, but never simpering or opaque. She has fine support in Chattopadhay, who brings just the right air of near-naïve determination to what in a more conventional film would have been ‘The Girl’ part. The third most important character is, as said at the outset, the city of Kolkatta itself, in all its schizophrenic glory, its sights, sounds, and people lending the film a dense and intoxicating ambience. There are loopholes in the plot, to be sure, and the narrative is all too obviously setting us up for a shock twist, but it’s all done so well, with just the right mix of finesse and grunge, that one is happy to dismiss the flaws in the immortal words of Mr. Hitchcock: “It’s only a movie.”
Cult: Woh Kaun Thi? (1964) – Is`Sadhana a ghost, a double, or a con-woman? Manoj Kumar tries to untangle the mystery, while Madan Mohan provides a haunting song-score.
Current: Paan Singh Tomar – Like Kahaani, this Irrfan Khan starrer came quietly out of nowhere to become one of the year’s sleeper hits.
Coming Attraction: Talaash – Aamir Khan Productions’ latest is generating a lot of buzz, some of it because, as it turns out, the story is said to be similar to that of Kahaani.