The review in this post is the unedited copy of the version published at Dawn.com on 22nd March 2012.
A Woman, Obviously Pregnant, Searching for a (Missing) Husband!*
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
In its 128 minute running time Kahaani manages to achieve the extraordinary: the movie grabbed me by the collar, pushed me down on the seat and then superglues my focus to the screen.
Staring an unmistakably pregnant Vidya Balan, here Vidya Bagchi, in search of a lost husband no one has heard of, the film drapes up – dare I say – an original veil on a familiar thriller.
However that familiarity, and a trivial dissolution at the premise’s corniness, will only hit audiences by the Durga-Puja festival’s climax – an event that tart’s-up Vidya’s intentions in blatant iconography. The splash of red, the abject celebration of women-power and the severity, the ingeniousness, of her vengeance – everything at that part fall in-line almost too perceptibly for my tastes. And let’s not even talk about the spell-everything-out epilogue.
But I guess looking at the bigger picture, spelling things out was a necessity.
Let me explain: In the theory of screenwriting, successful films often employ an “emotional release” at the end of an intricate plot.
Such “releases” (in this case, explanations) are often a necessity, especially for the emotionally invested audiences (watch this clip by Alfred Hitchcock for further clarification)
Films without ones are in danger of evoking a feel of partial-satisfaction, which in turn rarely generate good word-of-mouth – which in this grossly expanding Bollywood market is now an obligation, rather than an option. This “safe” approach to filmmaking is a dedicated Hollywood practice that has now entrapped Bollywood in a stranglehold.
Considering that Kahaani is now a blockbuster (it was made with a budget of INR 80 million and has to-date run domestic box-office of INR 240 million), I’d say the “release” tactic was another in a string of right decisions made by Screenwriter/Director Sujoy Ghosh. He, whose former career (Jhankar Beats, Home Delivery and Aladin) is a mix-plate of genres and fluctuating directorial style.
Kahaani is Mr. Ghosh’s evolution. His take on the seriousness of Vidya’s journey is piercingly sharp and slickly deviating. Characters and story-elements are introduced in riveting succession without interlocking. It’s almost as if one is piecing a shrewd jigsaw puzzle, but only has its border done.
As Kahaani opens, we see a masked man testing an airborne poison on lab-rats (a warning at the beginning of the film has already told us that the rodents are computer generated). By the next scene, an officer (Abir Chatterjee) fails to stop a terrorist attack on a local subway.
Two years later, Vidya – who people tend to address as Bidya – lands in Kolkata (read: Calcutta). Her husband is missing after he came here six months ago. There is no record of his arrival, or for that matter, proof of his existence – a fact off-set by Vidya’s visibly pregnant frame and a lonesome wedding photograph she carries.
Contrary to the trailers, which misled with the assumption that Vidya’s husband was a figment of her imagination, here no one doubts her sanity. Everyone, chiefly the police on whose jurisdiction her case falls, daftly credit her husband as a runaway delinquent.
Here we also meet Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee, spellbinding), a greenhorn inspector who subconsciously develops a crush on Vidya. Rana soon becomes her “saarthi” (the term refers to chariot drivers from Hindu myths), as she unfurls the inscrutability of the mystery.
As Vidya (or should I say Bidya?), Ms. Balan continues to corroborate her omnipotence as Bollywood’s most intelligent actress. Ms. Balan with her self-effacing smile (notice it flicker in her eyes), her ballooned belly and conscious body movement, is a picture of resonated warmth. The screenplay also makes sure to highlight (albeit sometimes too ardently) the burden and fragility of her position.
Our instant attraction to Vidya is a direct result of her character’s cerebral, quick witted nature and unbending resolve; and the fact that we’re anchored to her for the entirety of the film.
We also feel ourselves caught in an unspoken kinship with Rana, when he tries to hide his attraction to Vidya.
Compelled by Mr. Chatterjee’s delicately wily performance, we wish Kahaani a “Bollywood” ending – a fact that contrasts, and maybe belittles, Mr. Ghosh’s aesthetic perceptiveness.
Kahaani is playing right now on Pakistani screens – I hope to packed audiences.
Directed by Sujoy Ghosh. Produced by Mr. Ghosh, Kushal Kantilal Gada. Written by Mr. Ghosh, Ritesh Shah and Sutapa Sikdar (additional Screenplay by Suresh Nair, Nikhil Vyas); On a Story by Mr. Ghosh and Advaita Kala. Music by Vishal-Shekhar (the songs were seamless, though uninspiring). Cinematography by Setu and Editing by Namrata Rao.
The film stars: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Indraneil Sengupta, Abir Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee.
The Dawn.com URL is: http://www.dawn.com/2012/03/22/movie-review-kahaani.html
* Sorry about the misleading title. It was too funny to edit/delete.