Film Review: ‘Kahaani’
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Vidya Balan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Parambrata Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee
Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani is a hit-and-miss affair, but it hits more than it misses despite some unimaginably ludicrous contrivances, and an over-reliance on typical Bollywood thriller conventions. A derivative hodgepodge of the classic 1963 movie Charade, its 2002 remake The Truth About Charlie, and long-forgotten 1993 flick Ruby Cairo, Kahaani seems to be specially made for folks who like a shocking climax. Yet, it’s not gimmicky. From the opening moments, where toxic gas from a cage of rats makes its way to a subway train, we know we’re in for something interesting. The story tries to evoke, with some success, the Hollywood spy films of the 1960s where a stranger wanders into a new town and gets embroiled in a conspiracy over the course of a hot summer. The stranger in this case is a heavily pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) who arrives in Kolkata from London to search for her missing husband. She seeks help from the local police, and to her horror, fails to find any proof of the existence of her husband. As the rabbit hole goes deeper, the whiff of government machinations and a killer on the loose haunt her life.
As the plot unfolds, you begin to realise how the rest of the film is going to play out, except the ending, which is unexpected and bewildering. In a way, Kahaani is a one-trick pony, but it is a nifty trick. Ghosh directs with a stylish eye and it becomes hard to believe that he made the dreadful Home Delivery and Aladin before this. The pacing is slick and suits the heat that permeates the Kolkata locales. Vidya Balan, glowing from her recent turn in The Dirty Picture, is once again in fiery form. From the scene where she struggles to negotiate with the taxi driver vultures at the airport, she holds your attention. This is certainly the most complicated character she has ever played and the best she’s performed in any movie. Parambrata Chatterjee does a good job as a cop but Saswata Chatterjee is even better in his role of a contract killer. However, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has played small roles in Black Friday, Peepli [Live] and Paan Singh Tomar, is the brightest light in Kahaani. He is remarkable as a gruff, foul-mouthed cop, and makes you crave for a movie that stars him along with Irrfan Khan, Vijay Raaz and Deepak Dobriyal in the lead roles.
The bane of Kahaani is its second half, which is replete with cringe-inducing contrivances and plot holes the size of West Bengal. On some occasions, the film’s pace is maimed by a love track that is as unnecessary as it is laughably overblown. Balan and Parambrata Chatterjee’s characters suddenly start behaving as if they were in a tawdry Sidney Sheldon novel, picking locks and ransacking offices. There is a lot of exposition with shoddily staged scenes where characters literally face the camera and explain what is going on. There are even some hysterically bad instances of computer hacking where the film assumes its audience comprises only five-year-olds. Then there’s the finale that is so improbable that one can picture a question mark hovering above the audience’s heads. This is frustrating because all the good work is undone by every such absurdity, and that’s exactly what keeps this from being a truly great film. Ultimately, Kahaani is a passably assured piece of genre filmmaking that delivers the goods so well packaged that it doesn’t matter that they aren’t fresh.