April issue 2012

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 12 years ago

There hasn’t been a really good mystery movie that has come out of India in a really long time. Add to that a dearth of many other things in cine Bollywood; such as good roles for women or originality of content. Recently, successful Bollywood thrillers have either been remakes or biopics — check Agneepath or Paan Singh Tomar.

In comparison, Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani is a unique B-town offering and stars Vidya Balan, who takes centre stage in the movie as Vidya Bagchi. This is her first role after her award-winning performance in The Dirty Picture. She plays a heavily pregnant woman who travels all the way from London to Kolkata to find her husband Arnab, who has allegedly gone missing. Her search is frustrated in the beginning since no one comes to her aid, but as the film progresses, Vidya becomes more determined to find out what happened to her husband and why no one seems to know him. In fact, it soon becomes clear that he may be part of a bigger conspiracy, since everyone she meets tries to convince her that no such man ever existed or came to Kolkata. A terrorist attack serves as a parallel storyline to add ambiguity to the plot.

Among the many colourful characters in the movie Vidya Bagchi meets a sarcastic cop (“Madam in Kolkata…Vidya…Bidya…same feeling…”), a sympathetic cop who is the closest this film has to a hero (beautifully underplayed by Parambrata Chatterjee), and a rude intelligence official called Khan (the terrific Nawazuddin Siddiqui). There is also a sadistic contract killer called Bob, who exterminates anyone who attempts to help Vidya solve the mystery surrounding her missing husband. Clearly, someone doesn’t want her to find out her husband’s whereabouts.

Kahaani works in entirety because it’s original and very engaging. While one can argue about the ending being plausible or improbable, one cannot ignore the fact that it’s done very convincingly. Yes, there is a huge twist at the end, a twist so cerebral that one feels like thanking Sujoy Ghosh for not taking his audience for granted and offering something new. There’s a similar twist at the end of Home Delivery, an earlier film by Ghosh, but in Kahaani it’s more unpredictable and darker.

Apart from the solid performances by its entire cast, Kahaani has also been splendidly shot. Kolkata becomes a character in this film and the theme song Aami Shotti Bolchi, sung by Usha Uthup, compliments the city well. Cleverly written and directed, Kahaani is clearly the best Bollywood film of the year so far, for the simple reason that it does not follow a patented Bollywood formula but takes off on its own steam.

This review was originally published in the April issue of Newsline.

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany