Kahaani: A crisp Thriller which celebrates the triumph of womanhood amidst the ripe flavour of Kolkata.
Spoiler Alert: I am sharing my heartfelt thoughts on the movie Kahaani. There are massive spoilers ahead. Read only if you’ve watched the movie. “On a bright day in Kolkata when Durga Puja is around the corner a young lady somewhere between her late 20s and early 30s lands at the international airport. She is Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi, our protagonist. She sports the perfect educated middle class look, as she holds a novel and a bottle of water in one hand, pulls a trolley bag with the other hand, she’s attired in a dark printed maternity dress along with almost matching thick dark brown shades. She is heavily pregnant, her baby bump shows as if she could deliver any minute. A mob of cab drivers began to pounce on her, offering her rides. The most considerate among them manages to get an edge over the rest of them. She hires him to drive her straight to Kalighat Police Station. The driver himself remarks on this saying she is his first customer in 15 years to book a cab from the airport straight to a Police station, rather than to an airport or residence. She goes to the Police station to file a report on her missing husband. He’s been missing since a month. That’s how the main plot of 2012’s tightknit thriller Kahaani is set up.
Today is it’s 10th anniversary and I’m sure people are going to remember this movie very fondly. And there are many reasons for it. To begin with the writing here is so watertight, each and every aspect of this movie is present in the exact quantity needed. Whether it is the setup, which flows like water. All the minor characters and subplots stay for just the amount of time they are needed. They seem neither abruptly sidelined nor do they appear to overstay their welcome. Also, each of these minor characters too seem to be very intricately structured. Whether it’s the way Shridhar makes flirtatious remarks at the female receptionist at the National Data Centre, you can clearly make out what kind of a guy he is. The interiors of Agnes D’ Mello’s home show is just how spiritual she is. Also the emotional core of the movie is tapped in just the right quantity. Vidya’s scenes with Arnab in the flashback are shown very concisely. If you look at those scenes you know how those scenes can easily accommodate Arnab’s face to change eventually (Or for Arnab to become Arup after the final reveal.) The writers of the movie deserve a lot of credit. They have blended the perfect spirit that’s ageing so well with time. Off course among writers it’s Sujoy Ghosh who has been at the head of story, screenplay as well as the dialogues but he is also aided by Advaita Kala (story), Suresh Nair, Nikhil Vyas (both have contributed to Additional screenplay), Ritesh Shah and Sutapa Sikdar (both for dialogues).
One of the highlights of the movie is just how well fleshed out all the supporting characters are. Be it Rana, A rookie sub inspector whose official name is Satyaki Sinha. He is young, not so worldly weary yet, he develops a thing for Vidya. Initially it’s just a feeling of sympathy. Later as he tags along with her in their investigation he blooms out a full fledged one side love. Rana is the one who very early on in the movie tells Vidya that in Kolkata every one has two names; a Daak Naam (Nickname) and a Bhaalo Naam (Official name), Vidya assesses it equal to a double identity. As the movie concludes we realize that at one point both Vidya and Rana were inhibiting double identities, one which they were displaying to each other and the second one, which they were hiding. Though Rana doesn’t hide too much. He was still working with Vidya with the intention of doing his duty. He is still a mild mannered, soft spoken gentleman cop throughout. Even his reveals are within the fabric of his character. Parambrata Chattopadhyay plays Rana affably. His soft voice and innocent face helps Rana be more believable. The minute it’s revealed that Vidya’s missing husband Arnab looks exactly like a terrorist cum double agent Milan Damji, the Intelligence Bureau enters the movie, among whom the most pronounced presence is of Second in Command I.B. officer A. Khan. Khan is the typical ruthless and imposing authority enforcer. He is the kind of person who believes it’s okay to let go off some casualty if it is for the larger national interest. Even if some innocent blood is spilt off occasionally he feels it’s absolutely alright. In one of his most character defining dialogue when Rana questions him how different are the defense forces from terrorists if they can put a pregnant woman’s life in danger to get to one of their prime targets. Khan replies “Kuch farak nahi. Hum Kanoon ke liye karte aur woh kanoon ke khilaaf, Hum sahi, who galat.” (There’s no moral difference between us and the enemy. It’s just that we do these things to uphold the law, and they do these things to break the law.) Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Khan very convincingly. He embodies a kind of authoritarianism and forceful personality which makes us completely ignore his short stature. Also I couldn’t help admire the detailing done to show Khan dark lipped due to his compulsive smoking.
Off course among so many supporting characters in this movie the one who has most acquired a cult status is Bob Biswas. Just when Vidya starts asking people the whereabouts of Arnab this middle aged pot bellied, slimy character just pops up. In his first scene he is actually shown to be an underachieving insurance agent whose getting fired by his boss. But just in the very next scene he is shown gunning down Agnes, one of Vidya’s early leads. That’s when it’s revealed that he’s also a paid to hire assassin. The way Bob Biswas approaches his target itself has become so iconic. The way he greets them saying “Namashkar”” folding his hand to make the perfect gesture, then confirms the identity of his victims by saying their name in an enquiring tone. Once they confirm their identity, he says “ek minute”” and reaches for silencer fitted pistol in his sling bag and guns them down before anyone can notice anything. He later mutters a prayer making the sign of the cross with the gun still in his hand. Throughout he maintains a devilish smile that sends chills down the audience’s spines. It’s also appalling to see how at ease he is with his violent activities. He behaves like he is just getting his daily chores done. One of my favourite scenes of Bob is when he is trying to intimidate Vidya at the Subway station. He embodies pure evil in that scene. I don’t have enough words to praise Saswata Chatterjee for how well he has portrayed Bob Biswas. He has immortalized the role. Indraneil Sengupta too has done a good job. He is almost cast in a double role playing the caring husband Arnab and the menacing villain Milan Damji. He is equally good in both avatars. I also felt Kharaj Mukherjee did a good job as the chief cop at Kalighat Police station. It was also good to notice Riddhi Sen as a kid playing Poltu. ” “Another thing that stands out is how well Kolkata is portrayed in the movie. It’s not just a place where the story takes place. It’s almost like a living and breathing character within the movie. The numerous insert shots of the shops on the streets, the street food, the antiques put up on sale, the painting of idols of deities; these visuals very much sprinkle the existence of the place into the story. But it’s also the characters native to Kolkata in the movie. They feel as if they always lived there. They further help the city seep into the narrative. This is one of those movies where a character enters a place completely new to it but ends up becoming an integral part of it. Vidya in the beginning isn’t okay with the way people mispronounce her name as Bidya or Bida but ends up adapting to the trait as she herself starts calling a local help boy at her Hotel as Bishnu instead of Vishnu, and herself doesn’t mind being called Bidya or Bida.
The main aspect of the movie that I liked the most is how it depicts the triumph of a female character in a dark, violent male dominated setting while still maintaining her feminine conventions. I loved how Vidya maintains her dignified, feminine stance and still manages to achieve her goals. She doesn’t have to exhibit anger or aggression in a conventionally male attributed fashion at all. She comes across as this harmless, physically not very agile person with a big need whom men at more powerful position can easily use to get their job done. Little are they aware that it’s not her, it’s them who are being used, used by her. Vidya Bagchi is the Trojan Horse in the story. She is strong at heart, she is not deterred from her motives even when there’s risk to her life. She manages to help people out even when she herself is not in the best of circumstances . Towards the end Vidya Bagchi personifies Maa Durga as narrated by Amitabh Bachchan; she becomes the force to take down all the corrupt sharks holding high positions.
Vidya Balan was kind of born to play this role. She is natural in her character. She personifies each and every aspect of the character to the core. She exhibits a certain kind of grace, beauty and dignity that I strongly feel no other performer would be able to carry off. Vidya Balan is the kind of performer who can make impact without appearing to do too much.
The cinematography by Satyajit Pande is crisp. The racy action frames as well as the still dramatic frames are well captured. The editing by Namrata Rao is good too. The music by Vishal- Shekhar and the background score by Clinton Cerejo is impressive. Their sound helps the movie feel energetic when needed. I personally liked the rendition of Ekla Chalo Re by Amitabh Bachchan in his baritone. The makers have made good use of his voice cameo.
Off course a few borrowed aspect of the movie is visible. Like the climax of Kahaani is heavily inspired by the Hollywood movie Taking Lives. Also Vidya looking out of her Hotel room window is a clear homage to Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (1964) but it’s fine. Can be overlooked. Sujoy Ghosh deserves a lot of credit for seeing this movie through. This is his career best. Kudos to him. Thrillers or rather woman oriented thrillers will come and go, but Kahaani will always have it’s unique place.