I wasn’t sure what kind of film to expect, even after seeing the trailer a few times previously, but Kahaani is a story very well told – and with an ending that really delivers, with a real roller coaster surprise climax.
Vidya Bagchi (played by Vidya Balan), a pregnant young woman, arrives from London in Kolkatta and goes straight to the police station to register her husband as a missing person. No one is able to find any trace of him, and this only makes her search for him even more relentless. Only all is not what it seems, and the bringing together of a female-centered film, a thriller, international terrorism, and an almost gritty postcard affection for the city of Kolkatta makes for a captivating mix.
We follow Vidya through the city in the throes of the festivities of Durga Puja. A mobile camera is almost always present, moving around with our protagonist, capturing the idiosyncrasies of this city life, with its urban melodrama of heat and humidity, rain, hustle and bustle, beautiful cityscapes – all vividly captured in the sights and sounds on screen.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The supporting character of Rana, as an honest young policeman who assists Vidya in her search and falls for her spirited ways is played refreshingly by Parambrata Chatterjee. His cold and ruthless more senior counterpoint is Intelligence Officer Khan, played shrewdly by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Saswata Chatterjee plays the chilling Bob Biswas, an assassin who masquerades as a creepy life insurance salesman with badly receding hair who can’t sell a life policy – now there’s some dark irony for you. The scripting, acting and direction come together with finesse.
The film plays with its audience on a number of occasions, not least at the level of plot and action. The intermission moment – a key high point in Hindi cinema that is meant to keep us on the edge of our seats and guarantee we will come back for more in the second half – has us waiting to find out what has happened to Vidya after she is pushed in front of an oncoming train at a Metro platform. This brutal and arresting moment leaves you catching your breath.
There are a couple of brief jittery moments in the immediate second half, but the film soon gets back on track and enthralls us further in its world. Amitabh Bachchan’s narrative voice over at the end, and as his devotional songs scattered throughout, are at times touching and easily recognizable, though not entirely needed.
Vidya Balan’s last film, The Dirty Picture (2011, dir. Milan Luthria), has been riding high at the box office, with her performance receiving well deserved critical acclaim. Her acting in the earlier film Ishqiya (2010, dir. Abhishek Chaubey) is also worthy of note. And in Kahaani, Balan stands out yet again, and her accomplishment in this role is awe-inspiring and mesmerizing; not too different in fact to the dramatization of the Durga Puja that is infused throughout this film. Released on the day immediately after International Women’s Day, this film is a fitting complement to that cause.
Rajinder Dudrah is Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of Manchester, U.K., and author of ‘Bollywood: Sociology Goes to the Movies.’