New Delhi: This post has huge spoilers. If you haven't watched Kahaani yet, don't read beyond this line. There is no doubting that the straightforward thriller by director Sujoy Ghosh is surprisingly slick in its approach to details. In style and subtext it's a fallback on the genius of Satyajit Ray's film adaptation of his own detective fiction. Yet the film stops just inches short of earning its place in history due to its gaping plotholes and a climax that is a deep bow to mainstream Bollywood.
The image of actor Abir Chatterjee, an established name in the Bengali film industry, inside a metro compartment searching for a bag based on a tip-off about a potential terror attack on the city, is planted in one of the early sequences. An intentional spoiler, since his name is not mentioned again in the entire film until Vidya Bagchi reveals herself.
But the fact that you have seen his face and have wondered who he is throughout the film despite the director attempting to throw you off with the many twists and turns, works against the plot. The nagging feeling that he is somehow intrinsic to the story gradually grows on you, and in the silent cinema theatre you mentally start adding up the clues. That is never a good thing for a crime thriller whose investment capital is the suspense.
Mainstream neo-noir films play around with the intrigue and the moral consequences of the parts played by their protagonists. Kahaani as a film goes a step beyond that and establishes the central character as a crafty mercenary driven by vengeance and righteous rage. But I doubt the logic that went into justifying her act by implanting a false memory of her husband in the audience's mind.
The sequence where she almost gets pushed on to the tracks in front of an incoming train had been the highpoint of the trailer. The actual sequence fizzles out as a simple stunt. But I find it odd that minutes after when she meets a cop who sympathises with her, she fails to mention an event that could have almost got her killed. Saswata Chatterjee is superb as the contract assassin, too bad his story wasn't given the same loving care that Parambrata Chatterjee's was.
You know the story so far. Vidya Bagchi, the heavily pregnant wife of the mysterious Arnab Bagchi, travels to Kolkata looking for her missing husband who seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. The attention to details is stunning.
In her awkward gait, her visible discomfort with her body in the dust and grime of Kolkata, (the Durga Puja season in October is when the city is usually extremely humid) and the inside of one of the many cheap guest houses dotting the bylanes of the city, both Vidya Balan, playing Vidya Bagchi, and Ghosh have put up a formidable show in anesthetization of the location and the character.
It's easy to believe in Parambrata who plays a rookie cop who begins to fall in love with Vidya setting aside his obligation to the force and his own moral dilemma to help her. But aiding her in picking locks at government offices after hours clashes horribly with common sense. No cop would ever do that, no matter how noble the cause or how involved he is with the victim. I hate to nag, but it isn't that easy to pick a heavy old fashioned iron padlock with a hair pin. At least not outside Bollywood.
The climax to what I thought was a clever film came as a huge dampener. Having finished her 'job' in the city she runs away as a team of IB officials and the police reach the scene of crime. The film should have ended there leaving the audiences guessing her identity. Is she a hired assassin? Is she an IB insider? The diabolic twist at that juncture got underplayed by capitulating to what is crassly referred to as "what the Indian audiences demand" from a Hindi film.
What follows is a sobfest, a repeat of a candle light vigil scene from Balan's earlier film No One Killed Jessica and the apologetic explanation of why she does what she does. Justifying her action comes across more as an effort to appease the Indian morality than explain the twists. That is why Kahaani, despite being a refreshingly original film, falls short of immortality.