Thursday, March 15, 2012



NOTE: I'm not a 'Film-Critic.' By that, I mean I'm not obliged to praise or deride a film and be bothered about affecting its 'market value.' Which means I would not hesitate to give the entire plot away, although I have sense enough (I think) to keep the actual suspense alive and thus save your disappointment to when you actually watch the movie. Still, I've revealed quite a lot about the movie, both explicitly and implicitly. If you think that would kill the experience for you (although I doubt it would), by all means stop reading. If you think you wouldn't mind or if you'd like to test the water, then jump right in. Cheers.

Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Kahaani’ is the perfect Sandra Bullock vehicle if you count the climax out. Have you watched this movie called ‘the Net’? It’s that movie which they used to show on HBO at least twice a week at one point of time, about a woman on the run in an attempt to vindicate herself, in a do-or-die situation. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, Indy-styled, which means she manages to get out but only just. It’s a suspense-thriller, the sort of movie you watch exclusively to find out if the end comes to justify the means, a case of disappointment guaranteed. The makers are ruthless, their story unkind. You’re expected to endure the character’s torture with the promise of a liberation which isn’t all that liberating.

‘Kahaani’ isn’t a tale of vindication like ‘the Net’ exactly, but it puts its heroine in a similar kind of situation. Vidya Balan plays Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi, a South-meets-North woman whose Tamil lasts for seconds of blurt at the onset and never after. She claims to have come from London, lands in Kolkata amidst preying taxi-drivers of which she picks the one in focus. She has a Police Station for a destination. He finds that odd. Odd for a woman with a backpack and Bumblebee glasses. Odder still for a woman who looks to be a good 7-8 months pregnant.

How pregnant is ‘pregnant’? Care has been taken in writing believability into character. Mrs. Bagchi walks like she’s pregnant, gets dizzy (even if just once) and drinks water at every turn. Nevertheless, she’s only movie-pregnant and not pregnant-pregnant like Angelina Jolie in ‘A Mighty Heart’ tried to be. It means she can do whatever a woman can normally do, except she’d do it lying on her side. She’s the carrying Indian woman who thus plays Mother to everyone. To the kid at the guesthouse, the kid at the tea-stall who knows more than he’s supposed to and another at the police station – a certain Satyaki ‘Rana’ Sinha (Parambrata Chatterjee), an Assistant Sub Inspector of Police.

Vidya is in search of her husband, Arnab Bagchi. The fact that she’s filed a Missing Persons complaint says something about the situation. People like to help her, both for her pregnancy and for the fact that in spite of it, she’s a woman who knows her way around. Like Agnes D’Mello (Colleen Blanche) at the National Data Centre who’s supposed to have commissioned Arnab for a project. She denies having come across anyone by his name but she links his appearance to what she remembers of Milan Damji (Indraneil Sengupta), whose details she can’t find on the online database. There is, however, a physical database of hard-bound files at the old premises that she directs the action-pair of Vidya and Rana to. Vidya is Arjun, Rana is her Sarathy (‘Mahabharata’ for dummies), self-proclaimed. It’s like a John Woo punchline. Which means it would come back to haunt with a flashback reminder.

Helpers turn obsolete where there’s a contract killer around – Bob Biswas (Saswata Chatterjee), a slow-at-work life-insurance agent who can’t keep things discreet in spite of his silencer gun. A spree of killings gets the Intelligence Bureau involved. You could find it hard to process. Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) calls it collateral damage. He’s a Senior Officer at the Bureau – someone between Tom Hanks in ‘Catch Me if you Can’ and John Turturro in ‘Transformers.’ You watch the movie, you know which end of the spectrum he’s closer to. He foul-mouths, but he doesn’t foul-mouth enough, which means we’re asked to take him seriously. It’s not hard. Siddiqui does well. I saw him as an Irrfan Khan replacement. Then again, Rana and Khan looked like the same character split in two, kind of reminding me even more of ‘A Mighty Heart.’

Milan Damji (not ‘Milan’ or ‘Damji’, but ‘Milan Damji’ as Vidya annoyingly keeps repeating), we learn from Khan, is an ex-IB agent gone rogue. There’s a gas-attack on the Metro that we’re shown in the beginning of the movie. He’s the one behind that attack; the one the Bureau has been after for the past couple of years. The one who has always eluded because he has inside support. These aren’t spoilers. These are things that I can conveniently lay down before you. The actual spoiler is IN THE MOVIE. Let my opinion not spoil it for you. I’m someone who didn’t like ‘the Usual Suspects’ because, well, I didn’t like being lied to for an hour and a half. I could excuse ‘the Illusionist’ for the magic and Jessica Biel, and I liked ‘Memento’ as it came from another universe. Suspense, I feel, lies in the uncovering. The 5-minute flashback reel can only do so much. This is tiredness speaking.

Vidya Balan finds a way to keep some ‘Dirty Picture’ weight and keep it sexy still. Give me two words and I’d call her ‘irritatingly beautiful.’ Like Sandra Bullock. Like Catherine Zeta Jones. The film is well narrated in a split between two kinds of faith – one to the city, the other to the woman, allusions aplenty. It’s a passable mesh of the organic and the synthetic where the music (Vishal-Shekhar) does not help. I’d have been better with a lack thereof, but that’s just me. It’s extra cheese. And as for the movie, well – ‘the Net’ was made in 1995. We’ve had Ashley Judd in 'Double Jeopardy' and Kim Basinger in a handful of such roles in the 80s. Sandra Bullock in the 90s. It’s like this: Fifteen years from now, Bollywood would make ‘the Blind Side’ and give Vidya Balan its own Oscar. And I, like now, would only be ‘amused’ at best.

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