It all comes down to Story. Or, kahaani. Also, the name of one of the latest thrillers to hit Indian screens. Smart and taut, layered and slick, Kahaani works on many levels. And, doesn’t on some.
First, why it works.
Genre Bender While it’s easy to categorize Kahaani as a thriller, actually it is a bit of a genre bender. It mixes elements of the mystery, thriller and revenge genres in a smartly told tale about a woman who takes on the system in a bid to find her husband who just seems to have disappeared from the face of Kolkata, a city that reeks of mystery and intrigue.
Plot or Character Driven? A thriller/mystery movie that is character-driven rather than one that relies on plot devices is a rare entity and Kahaani works so well only because of its large ensemble of believable minor characters. While Vidya Balan essays the role of the hugely-pregnant protagonist Vidya/Bidya with amazing alacrity, the other characters too are a treat to watch. Be it the rookie cop-and-ally Sarthaki/Rana, the technologically-challenged cop in the police station, the bhadralok-assassin Bob Biswas or the foul-mouthed Intelligence Bureau officer Khan, they add a fresh-and-edgy quality to Bollywood story telling.
City Portrait More interestingly, writer-director Sujoy Ghosh uses the city of Calcutta/Kolkata to enhance the mystery elements of the story. A woman looking for her husband in the mind-numbingly narrow lanes of a crumbling city adds to the intrigue and visual dynamics of the story. In fact, the use of the festival of Durga Puja as a plot device is a climactic coup in the film. And best of all, the quirky Bengali trait of using two names (a nick name–or daak naam and a formal name–or bhalo naam) is brilliantly built into the theme of the story.
So, what doesn’t work?
The background score at times is too jarring and doesn’t quite lend itself to the tone of the film. And there are a few story holes that could have been papered over more smoothly. But those are minor flaws in a film that tells a kahaani that is entertaining and gripping. And gives the thriller genre in Hindie films a much needed boost.