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What a kahaani!

Sujoy Ghosh’s fourth film Kahaani is a mind-juggling medley of manipulation masquerading as a “mother of a story”. Yes there is a story, but maybe not the one you are watching. By the time you are told that, your trust in the tale is too tall to be tricked. And then the blinding revelation is further plunged into a quagmire of emotions to leave you shaken, stirred and oh-so-satisfied!

As the pregnant V/Bidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) touches down in Calcutta, Kahaani takes off like a standard police procedural. She is looking for her missing husband Arnab Bagchi, who had left her in London for a software consultancy project at the National Data Centre in Calcutta.

But as she goes and visits the handful of people who might have met or known him, armed with the six-month-into-the-job local sub-inspector Rana/Satyaki (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), it uncoils into a kahaani with deeper and darker secrets.

Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) from Delhi’s Intelligence Bureau arrives on the scene and tries to use Vidya — a helpless pregnant woman in an alien city — as a bait to dig fresh leads into past crimes. As blood starts getting splattered all around and loyalties go for a toss, Vidya is left with no option but to ekla cholo re to the truth.

And it is that chola, that walk, that does it for Vidya. Having cleavaged her way to box-office hysteria a few months back, the actress gets into the physicality of a pregnant woman with unfailing mastery. As she treads through the lanes and bylanes of the city, that Chaplinesque walk scores sympathy strides in our hearts. You immerse in her obsession to track down her husband, no matter how complicated the search sometimes gets.

As Shah Rukh Khan had once told us about his experience of the first Don (2006), it is very tricky to play a character which knows more than the audience most of the time, and in that exercise Vidya truly triumphs. If you go in a second time knowing the real kahaani, her actions and interactions will still ring true, even if bits of the film might not fully hold water then.

And when it’s not in the walk, it’s in the eyes. Vidya’s final stare at her final adversary is so powerful and so consuming that it tells us her unsaid kahaani in a moment and makes the action that follows, though most convincingly done, almost redundant. Paa, Ishqiya, No One Killed Jessica, Dirty Picture and now Kahaani… bhalo theko Bidya Madam.

The rest of the cast, mostly talent from Tolly, is terrific. Parambrata is effective as the very-Bengali rookie cop who is almost a sidekick (Satyaki, once Arjun’s comrade-in-arms) in Vidya’s quest and gets drawn into the case in many more ways than he thought. It is in his silent moments that Param shines the brightest. Saswata Chatterjee is spellbinding in his cameo and goes on to show (again) what a truckload of talent the man is. Kharaj Mukherjee, as Parambrata’s boss, makes his funny lines crackle.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, that brilliant actor from Firaaq and New York, is top notch as the no-nonsense policeman, who is ready to bend the rules to get his man. His scenes with Vidya glow in their intensity. Dhritiman Chaterji, Darshan Jariwalla, Kunal Padhy, Kalyan Chatterjee, Shantilal Mukherjee… every actor does the ensemble proud.

Kahaani is also a delightful ode to the city of Calcutta. There is a lot of warmth and wonder in the way Sujoy looks at the city where he once lived. Add that to the keen eye of cinematographer Setu (Taare Zameen Par) with his documentary background and, voila, you have Calcutta emerge as a heady cocktail of breathtaking images and seductive sounds. And in true Mira Nair style, at times the narrative sits back and just watches the daily quirks of the city play out in all its glory.

Editor Namrata Rao must have spent many an unending night sifting through all the glorious Calcutta footage the second unit got for her but she puts it all together just right. Keep an ear out for the songs Sujoy chooses to play as the action hits the streets. The Jhankaar Beats man continues to pay his tribute to the Boss, using some of RD Burman’s old Bengali favourites. They blend into Clinton Cerejo’s background score beautifully. And the film’s anthem? Jodi tor daak shune keu naa ashe breathing brave in Bachchan baritone. Oh Ghosh, what a coup!

It’s that having-fun-while-making-movies business that sets Sujoy apart. Even in his attempts that didn’t quite hit the spot (Home Delivery) or went wide of the mark (Aladin), it’s always the self-confessed movie geek and not a self-serious movie maker who is calling the shots in a Sujoy Ghosh film. Here his method — choosing Vidya B to lead a largely local cast in a national film — and madness — shootouts and contract killings in Calcutta are virgin territory on celluloid — present a very novel movie-going experience.

The best line in the film that Kahaani obviously alludes to goes like “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Want to know the greatest trick the Devi ever pulled? Catch Kahaani. It’s bery, bery good. Aami shotti bolchhi.