Paan Singh Tomar and now Kahaani - two eminently well made Hindi films in as many weeks. Unbelievable! One for Ripley's Believe It Or Not, one might say. Seriously though, FINALLY there seems to be something to rejoice in Hindi cinema to see films like these made!
After the OK enough Jhankar Beats and the absolutely dismal Home Delivery and Aladin, Sujoy Ghosh finally finds his bearings as a filmmaker of some merit with Kahaani. The film is engrossing and riveting fare as we follow a heavily pregnant Vidya, sorry Bidya (that's Bengali for you!), Bagchi around Kolkata looking for her missing husband.
Kahaani is well written, works well as a gritty thriller as the story moves along at a rapid pace and we are always one with the central character as we know as much as she appears to know. The city of Kolkata is superbly used even if in a typical manner, the interplay of the different investigative departments and their politics within and outside each other is well-worked out, the central relationship between Vidya and Rana - especially from his side - is beautifully done as are Vidya's inter-relationships and interactions with other characters like the ones with the little boy with the radio who gets 'running hot water' or the tea boy to name some. The characters, big and small are all well-fleshed out and real, something which aids the film a great deal. The film has its smaller, human moments even against the bigger picture and to his credit, Sujoy even gets away with certain flashbacks in the first half, something even Hitchcock couldn't do in Stage Fright.
That said, there are the few no-nos as well. Why would a hired contract killer merely threaten Vidya and create a huge tamasha instead at the metro station? If the mobile number they get from the hacked computer is Dhritiman Chatterjee's old number as is mentioned and shown, how come it goes straight to him and he's still using it? But the biggest let down is really the climax. Of course, it had to be set in the midst of the Durga Pooja procession but rather than give the film a solid punch and lift it even higher, it actually brings the film down as it is rather clumsily and tackily executed. And then, there is the final over simplistic explanation, which has a typical emotional filmi core to it followed by an ineffectual narration on goddess Durga - narrated by Big B no less who also renders Tagore's Ekla Chalo Re. The identity of the true villain is a mite obvious as is usually the case in a genre like this. Also, in hindsight when one reflects on the film, the lead character uses and sacrifices some perfectly decent citizens, who were actually helping her out, for the bigger cause. Is it really justified to use human lives like that? To top it off, Sujoy even has Intelligence Officer Khan saying that sacrificing a few people against thousands for National Security is perfectly OK!
The performances help a great deal. Vidya Balan has managed to create a niche for herself with roles centred around her and it has to said she delivers on all fronts - no pun intended. With Rani Mukherji and Kajol out of the reckoning, Vidya proves she is perhaps the best actress in mainstream Hindi cinema today. Looking at the paucity of decent, performance-oriented roles for women in Indian cinema today, this makes Vidya's achievement all the more solid. Fresh as she is on the back of her National Award for The Dirty Picture, one wonders if one can dare to suggest she might have booked it already next year for her nicely layered act in Kahaani which actually is better than her admittedly good but highly overrated work in TDP.
The supporting cast is brilliantly cast. One has to commend Parambrato Chatterjee, as the young policeman helping Vidya Balan in her search, who delivers easily the best performance in the film. It is a subtle and nuanced act that more than leaves its mark. The rest of the cast does its bit as well - all adding up to the pluses of the film.
Technically, the film deserves a mention for its superb and consistent on-location camerawork giving the film its look and feel, its production design and brilliant use of locations and yes, also its relatively restrained background score, barring the occasional typical emotional cliche. You do feel at times, though, that it is 'over shot' and consequently 'over edited' even if consistently so. Sometimes, this takes away from empathising with Vida Balan's character as much as the filmmaker might have wanted us to as the cut calls out for more attention than Vidya's expressive face and that is an irritant. Still, otherwise the pace and rhythm of the film is maintained nicely enough and keeps you hooked.
All in all, go for Kahaani. It's a story rather well told and Vidya Balan delivers!