London-based software engineer Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) lands in dusty Kolkata with a suitcase, a photograph of her missing husband, and a bottle of mineral water. The cab driver is surprised that this heavily pregnant woman asks to go straight to the police station.
The cops too are taken aback at the woman’s predicament. Mrs. Bagchi, as they call her, is looking for her husband who had arrived in Kolkata on an assignment. She hasn’t heard from him in two weeks.
One policeman, sympathetic to her state, tries his best to help. As they get closer to the target, key people start getting murdered. But this gutsy lady shows no sign of giving up.
In an interview with this writer, Balan had summed up her character as having great strength of character; that, despite her ordeal doesn’t lose her sense of humour. And that is exactly what’s striking about Mrs. Bagchi’s character.
It is Vidya’s triumph as an actor that she brings an everywoman quality to this extraordinary role, making the viewer incredibly connected with her journey. She plays the character with truth and emotion, making the ‘helpless heroine’ starkly outdated. Her rendering of the role is intense, without a hint of exaggeration. It’s a performance to savor.
Parambrata Chattopadhyay as her cop-ally, Saswata Chatterjee as the hit-man with a boring day job, Nawazuddin Siddique as an IB agent are simply extraordinary. These peripheral characters have their own tracks and agendas, which makes the journey that much more interesting.
The ‘twists and turns’ of Kahaani are not the kind that can be smelt a mile away. Here, it’s challenging to predict the developments; there’s one surprise after the other. In doing so writer-director Sujoy Ghosh (Jhankaar Beats, Aladin) falls into the trap of putting in too many sub-plots. A story getting convoluted along the way is never a good thing. There are portions in the film that, if removed, would make the story cleaner and easier to follow.
Still, the crackling dialogue, bits of humour, and superb performances keep you engaged. There’s an especially funny joke about “running hot water” in a guesthouse. And plenty of sinful dark humour to keep you smirking.
Editing by Namrata Rao keeps the film pacy, but never out of breath. Setu’s cinematography aptly captures the vivid visuals of Kolkata’s underbelly. Vishal-Shekhar’s lilting music blends in the background, doing its job without taking centre-stage.
The film’s finale is a confluence of lurking danger and the colour and celebration of the Durga Pooja. The Durga reference has been done often in melodramatic “women-centric” films. Here, the Durga metaphor is more subtle and tasteful. The magic of Kolkata during the Pooja has been captured in all its chaos and beauty, almost as if entire city has poured out on the streets in one big, connected festivity.
Watch Kahaani to relish a suspense thriller with a fascinating story and a masterful performance by Vidya Balan. And then, you’ll probably want to watch it again!
Rating: 4 stars