What would you do if the entire world told you that your husband didn’t exist? How far would you go to find him?
One of the promos for Kahaani read, “Does Arnab Bagchi exist?” And just as the movie started I had a nagging feeling that maybe this was about a schizophrenic looking for her imaginary husband. Remember Konkona Sen in 15 Park Avenue? I mean doesn’t the promo say it in as many words? How do you find a man who doesn’t exist? In just that one phrase, Sujoy Ghosh holds the key to the film.
I loved Kahaani, period! Not because it comes across as the perfect thriller. Not because it carries another superb performance by Vidya. Not because it has a super screenplay, great editing and crisp direction. But because it picks up an unsuspecting trait of all our personalities and plays it against us.
A heavily pregnant woman lands in a bustling, festive Kolkata. Alone. Looking for her husband. Only to be told that he was never there! Just the ingredients that would make the unsuspecting audience cluck ones tongue and say, ‘poor girl’. I mean really, I felt Vidya Bagch’s weight and desperation as she floated around Kolkata looking for clues that would help her find her husband. I believed Vidya Bagchi and her creator, in this case the director Sujoy Ghosh to treat her ‘kahaani’ with utter sensitivity. And what does he do? He takes that very belief that I bestow upon him and shoves it out of the widow!
Playing on stereotypes and popular perceptions, Vidya Bagchi (the character that Vidya plays) comes across as a little hapless fish in the big, murky dirty waters of male chauvinism. From being pulled and shoved by taxi drivers in Kolkata, to a bemused, bulky police officer who takes her seriously only when she says that she’s just landed from London, to the receptionist at the nondescript guest house, the irreverent and rather obnoxious Khan, to the easily swayed police informer Paresh da and the easily gullible and typically Bangali-shona-chele (the good natured Bengali boy) Rana – everyone is swayed by Vidya and her situation. Some melt at her teary-eyed look, some at her resolute, some others who manipulate her to their advantage, taking advantage of her situation, but above them all rises the so called vulnerable, bechari naari as she turns to be the one who manipulates all others. In ways more one, Vidya Bagchi vindicates every woman who has been manipulated in a man’s world by playing the rules like a man. And just for that you must watch Kahaani.
So what else?
The characters and actors chosen to play them fit their roles to perfection. Sujoy uses his Bengali roots to his advantage. For a Mumbaiwallah to set up a camera in Kolkata, depict it in its colourful best during the festival of Durga Pujo and paint it like a character in itself is a tremendous task. And Sujoy Ghosh does this beautifully. If Vidya is the principle protagonist of the film, the city is the second lead. And most of the interaction is from the point of view. So Vidya looks out of the window as she zips past Victoria Memorial and Maidan. She uses the Kolkata tram and taxi as her vehicle of search. She looks out of the window as Maa Durga comes home for five days of festivity and that becomes the one point of inspiration. Kolkata-isms too are an intrinsic part. The great Indian ‘juggad’ finds a special place in Bengali homes, so running water literally means a young boy running around with a kettle of water. The famed ‘daak naam’ that more often than not haunts every Bengali, finds a special mention and holds a significance. Kahaani has a motley group of actors picked from Kolkata television and cinema. Dhritiman Chatterjee is a waste and Saswata Chatterjee is a revelation! I walked out of the theatre wanting to take Bob Biswas home with me! Where else would you find an assassin who would smile and greet you with a ‘nomoskar’ and then pull the trigger at your smiling face? I didn’t approve of Nawazuddin Sidiqqui. He tried to some effect, but somehow I wanted to see a more accomplished actor in his place.
Indian cinema till date has very few entries in the thriller genre. One of the most compelling formats of story telling, Indian directors fall short of a few ingredients here and there. Kahaani in that comes very close to the success formula. A closer watch at the film and you will notice its ‘jigsaw puzzle’ like quality. Weave the different scenes and follow Vidya’s footsteps and dialogues with precision and you will see where and how the film is going. And like every good thriller, the mystery knits itself together towards its short and swift climax! And you the viewer will be left recollecting the moments in the film when the clue was out there for you, but you missed catching the plot.
Sujoy’s winning combination is his screenplay, precise editing and razor sharp direction and Vidya’s effortless performance.Dressed in about 5-6 Sabyasachi collected outfits, Vidya’s maternity wear will give a lot of preggers in town hope and style tips. I haven’t seen The Dirty Picture yet, but all those who have seen that and this say Kahaani is her ticket to next year’s Filmfare and National Award perhaps! I am not sure if it really. But what I do take back is the resurgence of the female lead. The 70’s ‘art house’ cinema had it, Tabu did it briefly in the 90’s and early 2000’s and now Vidya is reviving it.
But then every film has its problems too. Kahaani despite the veneer of being the perfect thriller has a few problems. The opening scene gives away something that it shouldn’t – why show a scene if you won’t go back to it until the climax? And why not leave a story on a cliffhanger? Why are we so obsessed with a resolution? Why do we always want answers to where a character comes from and why he / she does what it does? If Vidya’s motivations weren’t revealed, Kahaani would then have the perfect thriller! And the under-utilisation of talented actors is a let down. The poor Bengalis thronged the theatre hoping to see some ‘phata-phati’ acting from their known actors, but what they got was some props!
But then, you can ignore a few short comings, can’t you? Watch Kahaani for its representation of a woman – how the world sees her and how she manipulates the world’s perception of her. I am glad Sujoy Ghosh has found his bearings. May there be more ‘kahaanis’ in the future. But believe the story and not the story teller!