Kahaani fulfills what it sets out to do
Direction: Sujoy Ghosh
Actors: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chattopadhyay
Kahaani is a nifty thriller with an enjoyment quotient that is indirectly proportionate to how long you spend thinking about the plot. If you back-track and try to connect all the dots, the implausibility of the story amplifies - there's even a piecing-together-the-puzzle moment that echoes The Usual Suspects but this riddle isn't a patch on the intricate web of lies in the Bryan Singer film. However, if you're willing to think less, there is some fun to be had here.
Kahaani is the story of Vidya Bagchi, a software programmer from London played by Vidya Balan, who is both heavily pregnant and missing a husband. She arrives in Kolkata and heads straight to the police station from the airport - a fact remarked upon by the cab driver who is intrigued and bemused by her. So are the cops. Vidya insists on staying at a seedy guesthouse, which proudly advertises running hot water because the employees include a young boy who runs to the rooms with a kettle of hot water. Vidya is helped in her quest by an earnest cop Rana, played by Parambrata Chattopadhyay. But her husband seems to have disappeared into thin air - there are no school records, no relatives, no immigration records for Arnab Bagchi.
Director Sujoy Ghosh, who has co-written the story with Advaita Kala, keeps the tension tight and the volte-faces, frequent. Early in the film, Rana tells Vidya that everyone in Kolkata has two names, which here literally translates into two separate identities. So no one is what he claims to be. I especially enjoyed the unveiling of a dumpy-looking insurance agent. Ghosh cleverly uses Vidya's pregnancy - every time she trips or even sweats too hard, you become afraid - and the city of Kolkata to engage us in his story. All the tourist attractions from Victoria Memorial to Howrah Bridge to Durga Puja are duly ticked off. But this is the first time the city seems dangerous and ominously frenzied - so much that even getting a cab at the airport is fraught with strain.
Kahaani loses some steam post-interval. The tonal inconsistencies become more glaring and beyond a point, I lost track of the many intelligence agents, cops, moles, informers and double agents. It's also hard to marry the gritty telling with a slightly cartoonish plot hinging on a terrorist attack and poisonous gas - the first scene which has a man in a mask testing a killer gas on rats made me flashback to Sachiin Joshi's ridiculous thriller Azaan, in which a character grimly declares: India is under attack. Khatra biological hai!
But thankfully Kahaani doesn't come unhinged. The first-rate performances help steer it to shore - from Vidya Balan to Parambrata Chattopadhyay to Nawazuddin Siddiqui who plays a hard-nosed IB agent and Saswata Chatterjee who plays the insurance agent. Balan, quite effortlessly, manages to be both vulnerable and resilient. So despite the loopholes, Kahaani fulfills what it sets out to do and keeps you hooked and guessing. Which in itself is no small accomplishment.