Playing Vidya Bagchi, an NRI who lands in Kolkata heavily pregnant and immeasurably distressed by the disappearance of her shusband, Vidya Balan doesn’t hit a single false note in the entire graph of her character’s fascinating journey.
Kahaani is not an ordinary thrill-a-minute film about a search for a missing person it’s a lot more. Bringing a virgin vitality to the suspense drama Kahaani actually strikes a captivatingly consonant balance between realism in art and the art of courting realism without losing the sheer entertainment quotient of the plot.
From the moment Vidya lands in Kolkata the colour, vibrancy, bustle and jostle that are peculiar to Kolkata, assail our senses. It’s a claustrophobic yet liberating world of intrigue and deception. A pungent flavour of anxiety and stress qualify the narration from Frame 1.
Sujoy Ghosh whose earlier films gave us no clue of the ingenuity that he displays here with such ostensible casualness, cuts the footage with razor sharp economy, leaving no sign of the surgery involved in leaving behind scenes and putting together a tale that pays a homage to Hitchcock even while it tilts its topi to the detective films of Satyajit Ray.
The complexities of metropolitan life emerge in a kind of bridled flurry. Within a few of minutes of Vidya Bagchi’s landing on Kolkata we know her search for her missing husband is not going to be an easy cake-walk. Yes, we will see this spirited woman’s pursuit of the truth to the end.
Sujoy Ghosh crafts a tale of devious dynamics that do not make a song and dance of their cloak-and-dagger intentions. The narrative doesn’t whip up a lather of anxieties. Stock devices of the suspense genre are here thrown meaningfully into the Hoogly. The relevance and resonances of Vidya’s journey into the dark unrevealed bowel of India’s secret service emerge in illuminating details created in Vidya’s character which adds up finally to a jigsaw where not a single piece is out of place.
The end-game shot in an exquisite eruption of Durga Puja’s compelling colours, is so unexpected, it is bound to leave even the most diehard cynics with a sense of satiated suspense. Indeed, so clever is the writing and so stunning yet convincing the denouement that I was persuaded into wondering, did Sujoy Ghosh filch the material from some unidentifiable source?
While it would be criminal to give away any of the plot details it would be in the scope of permissible praise to say the writing is clearly not meant to strew red herrings in our way. As we go back to the film at the end we see every detail, every twist and turn in the plot was meant to be a coherent pointer to the complete picture.
Ghosh’s masterful strory telling leaves no room to doubt the existence of a rather unforgiving God who charts a seemingly cruel destiny for the unsuspecting individual. Vidya’s portrayal of grace under pressure is so measured and skilled, I at times wondered if she was actually watching herself perform from a distance to make sure she doesn’t take her character’s distress into the kingdom of melodrama.
Vidya has splendid support from actors who merge into the Kolkatan conundrum with the seamless inevitability of people who accept extraordinary circumstances as part of life’s ordinary patterns.
Impressive in his own right is Parambrata Chattopadhyay as Vidya’s pillar of support from within an Establishment that insists on throwing her off the track. (By the way, Vidya is never pushed on to the subway track. That’s one of the smaller myths surrounding the film that comes undone…Wait till the end to see how many of the myths surrounding the pregnant protagonist are demolished). Parambrata plays his gentle character with such tender affection you begin to believe goodness is not an extinct commodity in the Establishment.
Nawazuddin Sidiqqui that brilliant actor from Kabir Khan’s New York and last week’s Paan Singh Tomar, brings a steely-sharp ruthlessness to his investigative officer’s role. In one of Vidya’s best sequences where she quietly tells him to keep his menacing advice to himself, Nawazuddin steps back to let the lady have her moment of glory, unhampered.
Vidya Balan takes centre stage with great skill and restrained pride. Her laughter of unalloyed joy when she bonds with the chai-wallah kid (Ritobroto Mukherjee) and her final breakdown sequence where all the walls dividing her and us the viewers from the terrible truth are broken, bring her close to the cathartic emotions that Shabana Azmi displays.
Vidya displays a rare understanding of her character’s exacerbated emotional and physical state. Luckily for her, her co-actors display no outward or inward signs of insecurity in playing roles that are designed to be supremely supportive. Veteran Bengali actors unknown to Bollywood such as Saswata Mukherjee as a hired assassin and Kharaj Mukherjee as a kindly podgy cop, fill up the edges of the comprehensive lucid portrait of a woman with a mission, without crowding the canvas.
Kahaani is one of those rare films that can easily lay claims to being a game-changer. And yet the narrative makes no claims. The destiny of the protagonist is charted in a breathless sweep of urgently persuasive episodes that tumble out as though God wrote Vidya Bagchi’s screenplay.
Enthralling, absorbing and engaging the narrative never resorts to italicized emotions to get our attention. We are hooked unconditionally from Scene 1. We surrender to Vidya’s journey. She gives us no choice.