In 2005, Pradeep Sarkar showcased Calcutta of the 1960s, a city at the peak of its glory, with its night clubs, Durga puja, Rabindra sangeet and bhadralok in Parineeta. In Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani, the city assumes new hues of fear, crime and frustration, while retaining the soul of the city of joy. Sujoy tells the story of Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi (Vidya), a pregnant woman, who arrives in Kolkata from London in search of her husband. After landing at the airport, she heads straight to the Kalighat police station to report the case of her missing husband. She meets Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee), a police officer, who develops a soft corner for her and becomes a partner in her journey. Her quest takes her through myriad situations as she unravels many mysteries, while retains hope in the claustrophobic and confounding lanes of Kolkata.
Sujoy Ghosh started his career on a positive note with Jhankar Beats in 2003 and then lost track with forgettable works like Home Delivery (2005) and Aladin (2009). But he takes everyone by surprise this time and delivers a finely structured work. Right from the first scene, he holds your attention as the story unfolds and the mystery thickens. Just watch out the refreshing moments between Rana and Vidya. Sujoy so wonderfully steers clear of predictable twists to this tale and prevents the story from slipping into the terrain of a melodrama. Advaita Kala has written a strong story, weaving in her own experiences of linguistic barriers and chaos during her stay in the city.
In the past, movies like Pyaasa, Amar Prem, Parineeta and The Namesake have brought out different hues of Kolkata. Kahaani presents the city in a never-before-seen avatar, putting on a rugged façade, sans all dreamy allusions. What lends character to the stunning visuals is the music of Vishal Shekhar. So many songs have celebrated Mumbai and Delhi in the past. Aami Shutti Bolchi, in the sonorous voice of Usha Uthup, is a fitting tribute to modern-day Kolkata. But the finest treat is Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekla chalo re (Walk Alone), sung by Amitabh Bachchan. While purists might frown upon the new rendition, the song is presented in a very contemporary format, which provides a point of relief in the intense plot.
Motherhood is the leitmotif that runs through Kahaani. The movie tells the story of a woman at the threshold of motherhood, fighting a battle to do justice, not just to herself, but also to her unborn child. The entire movie is set in the backdrop of the Durga Puja, with devotees carrying their mother to their homes for the puja and finally resigning her to the waves at the end of the fest.
But the wonderful story is carried ably on the shoulders of Vidya Balan, who again delivers a bravura performance after The Dirty Picture (2011). Hers is the strongest character of this movie. The frustrations, resilience, hope and anger of Vidya Bagchi is so well brought out that you empathise with her in each scene. Right from the scene in which she steps out of the airport to be confronted by the cacophony of the city to the remarkable climax, she looks every inch a woman who seems to be fighting a losing battle with the hope of miraculously winning it one day. In some ways, Kahaani seems to be in continuum with Parineeta, which marked her debut in Hindi cinema. The gentle romance of a married woman in Parineeta seems to be hit by reality in today’s Kahaani. She is, by all means, the hero of this movie. But what enunciates her performance is the laudable support given by Parambrata Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Parambrita is extremely endearing as the police officer Rana, who silently loves Vidya, goes out of his way in helping her find her man and yet never makes his love very obvious to her. Even minor characters like the boy who brings hot water for Vidya in the guest house or the police inspector who mispronounces Vidya’s name as Bidda everytime he meets her, pull off an effortless performance. At the end, you seem to be so impressed with the work, that you seem to forget and forgive the flaws in this movie. This is a Kahaani you won’t forget.
(This review appeared in Madras Plus, the Friday supplement of The Economic Times)