2012, colour, 2.35:1, 122 mins (I: 56 mins; II: 66 mins)
Directed by Sujoy Ghosh
By Derek Elley
Mon, 19 March 2012, 10:00 AM (HKT)
Gripping, Hitchcockian thriller, with actress Vidya Balan at the top of her game. Asian events.
Kolkata, autumn, the present day. Two years after a terrorist gas attack at Kalighat metro station in which many civilians died, computer firewall specialist Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan), with a seven-months-pregnant tummy, arrives from London. It's her first time in the city, which is getting ready for its biggest festival-cum-carnival of the year, Durga Puja. Vidya goes straight to Kalighat Police Station to file a missing report on her Bengali husband Arnab Bagchi, 33. She tells the laid-back Inspector Arjun Chatterjee (Kharaj Mukherjee) that Arnab, also a firewall specialist, had arrived ahead of her as he had business appointments at the National Data Centre; but a few days ago he mysteriously stopped calling her in London. The inspector's young deputy, Satyoki "Rana" Sinha (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), offers to take her on to the Mona Lisa Guest House, where Arnab was staying, but the manager, Das (Nitya Ganguli), denies he was ever there. Vidya takes the same room she says he was registered in, No. 15. Next day, she visits the NDC, where personnel manager Agnes D'Mello (Colleen Blanche) has no record of Arnab working there. And when Vidya and Rana go to visit Arnab's only surviving relative, his uncle, there's no trace of his family ever having lived in the district. Agnes then re-meets Vidya and tells her she's since remembered the face on the photo Vidya showed her; but she knew the man as Milan Damji, not Arnab Bagchi, and the computer file on Damji is locked. Soon afterwards, Agnes is killed by hired assassin Bob Biswas (Saswata Chatterjee), and A. Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), number two at the Intelligence Bureau in New Delhi, arrives in Kolkata and tries to persuade Vidya she's been imagining things and should return to London. Rana, who's come to like Vidya, offers to help her in his own time, and the two break into an old NDC building where old paper files on employees are still stored. The picture on the file proves Damji is not Arnab. Finally, Khan tells her the dangerous truth about Damji; but Vidya is not to be put off finding him, as she says he must hold the key to Arnab's whereabouts.
A cracking thriller that starts with a bang and then winds its way across two hours of gripping entertainment, Kahaani more than makes up for its lack of high-tech, Bollywood superstar sheen with well-drawn characters, atmospheric use of Kolkata's bustling streets and clever corkscrew plotting. The Hindi title simply means Story, and that's what the audience gets plenty of, along with a superb leading performance by 34-year-old Vidya BALAN that carries the movie and definitively establishes her (if there was still any doubt) among the top ranks of mainstream Indian actresses.
Apart from their good feel for ensemble, there's little in director Sujoy GHOSH's previous three movies — the relationship comedies Jhankaar Beats झंकार बीट्स (2003) and Home Delivery (2005), plus special effects fantasy Aladin (2009) — that prepares the viewer for the assurance he shows here in juggling mood, character and pure escapism. It's no more believable than any other Hitchcockian thriller, from East or West, but Ghosh, working in his home town of Kolkata, brings a vibrant sense of place to the narrative that's a welcome change from the usual carpetbagging approach of most Bollywood directors to their locations.
Balan started her Hindi career with a revelatory performance in Parineeta परिणीता (2005) and then patiently worked her way back up again via roles in movies like Lage raho Munna Bhai लगे रहो मुन्नाभाई (2006), Eklavya: The Royal Guard (2007), and Ishqiya इश्किया (2010) to the co-lead in legal-political drama No One Killed Jessica (2011). As a showcase for her classy looks and real acting talent, Kahaani is streets ahead of the over-hyped The Dirty Picture द डर्टी पिक्चर (2011) and, with its more "realistic" atmosphere, relies dramatically on her performance much more.
As Balan's character tramps the streets of the city in a relentless quest, she's surrounded by a rich ensemble of Bengali character talent, including actor-director Parambrata CHATTERJEE as a patient, likable cop, TV-film actor Saswata CHATTERJEE as a blackly comic hitman and Kharaj MUKHERJEE as a bluff neighbourhood police inspector. Best of all, however, especially in his morphing from an unsympathetic bully to a kindlier associate, is theatre-film actor Nawazuddin SIDDIQUI (the traumatised detainee in thriller New York (2009) and local reporter in Peepli [Live] (2010)) as intelligence officer Khan.
Without overdoing the grit or the wobbles, Ghosh's use of mobile, handheld camerawork gives an excellent feel for the restlessness of both the city and its central character, who's shown as a triple outsider: not just a woman on her own and a non-Bengali but also encumbered by a large pregnancy bulge. And it's to the credit of the well-worked script — by six people, including Ghosh — that, inbetween neatly tying up all the complex threads and springing twists that the most jaded viewer won't see coming, even the main character's pregnancy becomes an integral part of the plot.
Clinton CEREJO's pulsating, somewhat eery score and Namrata RAO's trim editing are fine assists in the drama. And when Ghosh lets off the brakes in setpieces (the opening metro attack, the pre-intermission cliffhanger, the finale in Triangular Park during a Durga Puja street carnival) the whole ensemble of performances, music, cutting and photography comes grippingly into play. There will always be a place in Bollywood cinema for flashy, testosterone-fuelled blockbusters, but Kahaani shows that less can be more when the basic film-making constituents are all properly in place.
ContactSales: Studio 18 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: India, 9 Mar 2012.
Presented by Viacom 18 Motion Pictures (IN), in association with Jayantilal Gada, Pen India. Produced by Boundscript Motion Pictures (IN). Executive producers: Mohammed Attarwala, Arindam Sil. Producers: Kushal Kantilal Gada, Sujoy Ghosh.
Script: Sujoy Ghosh, Suresh Nair, Nikhil Vyas, Ritesh Shah, Sutapa Sikdar. Original story: Sujoy Ghosh, Advaita Kala. Photography: Setu. Editing: Namrata Rao. Background music: Clinton Cerejo. Song music: Vishal-Shekhar. Lyrics: Vishal Dadlani, Anvita Dutt, Sandeep Srivastava. Production design: Kaushik Das, Subrata Barik. Costume design: Sabyasachi Mukherjee (for Vidya Balan), Suchismita Dasgupta. Sound: Sanjay Maurya, Allwin Rego. Action: Sham Kaushal. Visual effects: Marc D'Souza (Intermezzo Studios). Associate director: Abishek Sengupta.
Cast: Vidya Balan (Vidya Bagchi), Parambrata Chattopadhyay (Satyoki "Rana" Sinha), Nawazuddin Siddiqui (A. Khan, Intelligence Bureau deputy head), Indraneil Sengupta (Milan Damji), Abir Chaterjee (Arup Basu), Dhritiman Chatterjee (Bhaskaran K., IB head), Saswata Chatterjee (Bob Biswas), Shantilal Mukherjee (R. Shridhar, National Data Centre chief technical officer), Kharaj Mukherjee (Inspector Arjun Chatterjee), Colleen Blanche (Agnes D'Mello, NDC personnel manager), Nitya Ganguli (Das, manager of Mona Lisa Guest House), Ritobroto Mukherjee (Bishnu, guest house boy), Pamela Bhuttoria (Sapna), Kalyan Chatterjee (police informer), Ridhi Sen (Poltu), Darshan Jariwala (Captain Pratap Bajpayee, retired IB officer), Amitabh Bhachchan (end narrator).