'Kahaani'; Sujoy, Vidya's Tantalising Thriller!
By MovieTalkies.com, 09 March 2012
An astute sense of timing is half the craft when it comes to stage magic. Anybody can pull a rabbit out of a hat. But it's only a good magician who knows exactly when to do so, to get the effect just right, teasing and testing the audience's interest for maximum thrill. Though it was his last film, Aladin, which revolved around magic and marvel, it seems like it's with his latest, a suspense-thriller called Kahaani, that director Sujoy Ghosh has perfect this theatrical sense of timing, revealing his plot just one jig-saw piece at a time to set up a truly tantalising mystery for audiences to relish.
Though Hindi cinema has hardly had a tradition of great mysteries earlier, preferring the straightforwardness of action and romance, Sujoy and his writing partner Advaita Kala flesh out a mystery that is undeniably Indian in its feel and context.
There's little that can be said about the story without giving it away; Kahaani opens up to one Vidya Bagchi, seven months pregnant and on her first trip to Kolkata, who lands up directly at Kalighat police station from the airport after her London flight, to lodge a missing person report for her husband Arnab Bagchi, who she hasn't heard from in two weeks. There, encountering that uniquely Kolkata-ish contrast of apathy and aid, indifference and interest, Vidya begins investigating the case herself with help from the young station sub-inspector, Satyoki, affectionately called Rana. Along the way, however, the case gets tangled with the affairs of the national Intelligence Bureau, as Vidya and the audience quickly discover that Arnab Bagchi might not quite be the man he claimed to be and there might be bigger things afoot. In quick order, a brash and rude IB commander called Khan is despatched to Kolkata to begin some investigations of his own into Vidya's activities and a crazed, manic looking hitman called Bob Biswas, who masquerades as a sallow LIC agent, begins bumping off all the leads that Vidya and Rana have been gathering. Where all the threads of the story come together lies the biggest mystery of them all, with a shocker of a twist revealing the truth about Arnab Bagchi's disappearance.
Kahaani is positive proof that in cinema, it is the story that counts for everything. Advaita and Sujoy set up a line that is both believable and truly engrossing, though the film's final twist is a bit predictable. Still, with a mystery about a missing person, the choice of Kolkata as a setting is a masterstroke in itself, as the vivid, colourful and hyperactive cityscape of this ancient metro for a story like this is the perfect one. In fact, with Rana and Vidya's travails all over town, it's almost as if the city comes alive as a character of its own in the film's narrative. That the film is set during the city's famous Pujo season only helps things. Cinematographer Setu relishes and delights in painting vivid portraits of the city with his work in Kahaani. The film impresses with its writing too, with not a dialogue or even a piece of banter between Vidya and the others that rings untrue here.
Sujoy's other masterstroke, of course, is his choice of casting the superb Vidya Balan in the lead as Vidya Bagchi. Fresh off the triumph of The Dirty Picture, Balan, with her act of quiet desperation and hopefulness, all while trying to find any clues of her husband's whereabouts, proves once again why she counts amongst India's best actresses in an otherwise male-dominated industry. In all honesty, one cannot imagine another actress who could have played this role with quite the efficacy and connect that Balan brings to it. She's ably backed up by her Bhalo Theko costar Parambrata Chattopadhyay, who plays Rana with amazing sincerity and shyness. As Vidya comments in the film, about the name Satyoki being that of Arjun's charioteer in the Mahabharata, so too is the chemistry between Balan and Parambrata's character in the film, and the two performances add to the appeal of the story itself.
As the brash and rough-hewed Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui is supremely effective and brings astonishing screen presence to the role. The lesser-known actor's confidence flows onto screen in this grey role, and he becomes quite a stand-in for Vidya's rival in the film. Bengali actor Saswata Chatterjee comes in as Bob Biswas and plays the role of the unlikely, smiling hitman, with a scary and effortless relish. Model Indraneil Sengupta cameos fairly well in the role of Arnab Bagchi, Vidya's missing husband, whose photograph she totes around all over town.
Though the film doesn't have a very active musical element, Vishal-Shekhar turn some amazing tracks for the film's score. While Usha Uthup and Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy's aami shotti bolchi might just become a new anthem for Kolkata, with the lyrical imagery it builds, the legendary Amitabh Bachchan's take on Tagore's ekla cholo re is inspired and inspiring in itself.
One person who definitely deserves credit for making Kahaani what it is, is editor Namrata Rao, who cuts the film with a great sense of pace and timing, keeping things tight and audiences on the edge of their seat throughout.
Ultimately, praise for Kahaani ultimately belongs to director Sujoy Ghosh, who brings the suspense thriller into Bollywood vogue with his latest work. With the supremely talented Vidya Balan in the lead, at the height of her powers, the director thrills and seduces audiences with this mother-of-all-mysteries, and reinvents himself, almost magically, as a writer-director to watch out for.