Kahaani Indian Express Movie by Shubhra Gupta

KahaaniCast:Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Nawazuddin Siddiqe, Indraneil Sengupta, Kharaj Mukherjee, Saswata Chatterjee

Director: Sujoy Ghosh

Indian Express Ratings:***

“Not Bidaa, it is Vidya, with a V”. Vidya Bagchi, newly-arrived in Kolkata on a painful quest, comes up slam bang against the one intractable law that governs the city. No Vs, only Bs. No problem, the Bagchi part of her is a feisty B, and she’s here for some answers, and she’s not leabing till she gets them. Her husband has gone missing while on assignment in Kolkata : where is he, why is there no news from him?

‘Kahaani’ gives us not just a woman on the trail of a missing spouse, but a terrorist plot, data-crunching specialists, contract killers, evil moles, salt-of-the-earth guys. And it keeps us guessing, more or less. Which, for a Bollywood thriller, is quite an achievement, even if the terrorist angle turns out to have faintly ludicrous edges. In the first place, Hindi cinema doesn’t really attempt fast-paced thrillers with quite these ingredients, and when it does, they turn out clunky if not plain terrible. If ‘Kahaani’ had managed to keep the edge of suspense as sharp in the second-half, which falls prey to a few improbable plot contrivances and some gratingly explanatory scenes, it would have been very good indeed. But despite the hiccups, it remains engaging.

The heavily-pregnant Vidya’s (Balan) first stop is a police station, where her missing person report is met with a mix of skepticism and indifference, universal to cop stations around the world, and a special Kolkata stamp of deference to women, especially those ‘in her condition’. With a taken-in-with-her young cop Bhalo Naam Satyuki, Daak Naam Rana (Parambrata) in tow, she traverses the city, and we go along with her, getting to see Kolkata through her eyes, alternating in rapid-fire snapshots, and in slower moments, till everything speeds up for a fiery, Pujo-soaked climax.

Part of the pleasure of ‘Kahaani’ is just that. That we get a city which is not Delhi or Mumbai, dull default locations of too many Hindi films. Kolkata’s distinctive flavours are mined skilfully by Sujoy Ghosh, keeping the standard touristy sights low, and letting the city become a place that needs to be both enjoyed and negotiated. The other thing that the director does well is to use Bengali actors, not Bollywood-trying-badly-to-be-Bong, and that goes a long way on the authenticity scale. The supporting acts are excellent, especially Parambrata whose growing liking for Vidya-Bidaa is tempered by a pragmatic desire for holding on to his job, and Nawazuddin whose crude, foul-mouthed Intelligence officer stands out, even if you wonder whether he’s overdoing it a tad. The plump policeman ( Kharaj), sympathetic to Bidaa’s cause even if he can’t pronounce her name correctly, is spot on; and Saswata Chatterjee plays his part-time assassin’s part with sweaty, smiling relish.

And that brings us to Vidya Balan, who seems to have become Bollywood’s go-to girl for women-centric roles. Her Vidya here has a clear physical graph which she transmits nicely : the outsize maternity dresses emphasizing her baby bump, hair messily tucked into a bun, determined gait, rhythmic shaking of the knee when agitated. But, like in her previous roles, there is no modulation in the way she sounds : she speaks just the way she always has, right from her first movie. I’m still waiting for the role in which she will be like she hasn’t been before, and not just outwardly. Still, a Balan in full flow is much better than anyone else Bollywood has right now, except maybe a Chopra. Small mercies.

Ghosh, who gave us a couple of trashy films after his sparkling debut, ‘Jhankaar Beats’, is back with a story with a strong sense of place and character. He loses his grip a little in the second-half, but this `kahaani’, overall, has enough for a sit-down-and-watch.

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