Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Kahaani: Vidya’s latest is a taut thriller
If you go by the Bollywood formula, Sujoy Ghosh’s “Kahaani” doesn’t tick any of the boxes. It’s a thriller — a genre Bollywood usually stays away from; it’s got a female lead, hardly any songs and no distractions in the form of a comedy/romance track.
It does tick one crucial box though — it’s a well-made film, with some great characters and powerful acting, and if you are willing to ignore some plot holes and go with the flow, this is a very satisfying watch.
Vidya Balan plays Vidya Bagchi, a pregnant software engineer from London who comes to Kolkata in search of her missing husband. She discovers very quickly that no one seems to know where he is, and there are no records to show he even came to the city. Determined not to give up, she enlists the help of a young police officer, Rana (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), scouring the narrow lanes and crowded markets of Kolkata in the hope she can find some trace of the elusive Arnab Bagchi.
The deeper she digs, the more things get complicated, and it’s obvious that writers Ghosh and Advaita Kala couldn’t quite keep up. While the first half is gripping (the point when the film breaks for interval is nerve-wracking), “Kahaani” loses some steam in the second half.
There are some glaring plot holes, and the reasons for many of the protagonist’s actions seem blurred. This is not one of those movies you try to make sense of later, because it’ll just get more muddled in your head.
That aside, there is much to enjoy in “Kahaani”. The city of Kolkata is frenzied, colourful and chaotic and Setu’s camera captures that quality perfectly. Ghosh obviously knows and loves this city, and opts to capture it during the Durga Puja celebrations — a time which is both festive and frenzied — lending to the tone of the film very well.
Ghosh also makes some great casting choices — much of the cast, except for Vidya Balan and Nawazuddin Shaikh (who plays an Intelligence Bureau agent) are from Kolkata. Parambrata Chattopadhyay, who plays Rana, is endearing and the perfect foil for Balan. Shaikh, as a hard-nosed IB agent is perfectly cast, as is Saswat Chatterjee, a contract killer whose day job is that of a bumbling insurance agent.
Special mention for the lovely rendition of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Ekla Chalo Re” by Amitabh Bachchan — it played on in my head a long time after I left the theatre.
Vidya Balan is, of course, brilliant — she is at once vulnerable and brave and steady, and keeps you hooked to her “Kahaani” from the word go. With “Ishqiya”, “The Dirty Picture”, and now “Kahaani”, you can be sure that Balan is the newest hero in Bollywood.