Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Vidya Balan, Arjun Rampal, Naisha Singh, Jugal Hansraj, Amba Sanyal
As of this moment, I’m quite certain that Sujoy Ghosh and the think-tank behind Kahaani 2, brandishing cool shades, artsy hats and suede jackets, have gleefully thrown down the gauntlet to every single film critic in this country: “Let’s see you ‘review’ this one.”
This is a tough one. It’s virtually impossible to construct any sort of useful critique of this film without disclosing crucial plot details. This is a thriller so focused on not revealing enough, that even our most cautious reasoning – conditioned to fill in the many blanks – runs the risk of morphing into one giant spoiler.
Literally everything that unfolds after Vidya Sinha’s (Balan) paralyzed teenage daughter, Minnie (Naisha Khanna), is kidnapped from their modest abode falls into this conflicted category. Even Minnie’s paralysis is a semi-spoiler, as is the keen interest shown by a new Inspector (Arjun Rampal, as Inderjeet) in Vidya’s ‘case’ while she lays comatose after a road mishap. I’m pretty convinced that Jugal Hansraj’s face is a spoiler, too.
This is a tough one. It’s virtually impossible to construct any sort of useful critique of this film without disclosing crucial plot details.
In fact, offering vague descriptions about how I suspect there may be too many loose ends – without being able to reveal why [“The villain’s motivation is strange because, hey just believe me, something doesn’t add up!”] – will perhaps only make me sound like an opinionated little fool straining to break through an embargo’s fourth dream-level.
But, as the not-so-old American-sitcom phrase goes: Challenge Accepted.
Let’s, for a while, forget about the plot. Its language and pace more or less operates on the same beats as its predecessor, though there are no obvious hints that this sequel is a faraway extension of Vidya Bagchi’s (Kahaani, 2012) universe.
Mr. Rampal’s bemused presence, though, is a bit too self-explanatory; he straight-faces it, obviously ‘in’ on where he exists in context of the storyteller’s tricks.
There is, visibly, a certain emotional continuity to its spirit. Thanks to Inderjeet’s curious investigation through the contents of her (explicitly detailed) diary, we’re shown Vidya’s life eight years prior to her latest predicament – as Durga Rani Singh – ‘beginning’ a new life in a tucked-away hill station.
Durga is a loner, quite clearly traumatized by her recent past. Which is why I’d like to believe she escaped from Kolkata and settled here under a new alias after Kahaani’s events. But it doesn’t really matter. Her backstory has little bearing on the considerably darker adventures ahead. She could even be a reformed dog-lover looking for penance after accidentally killing a mutt; it honestly doesn’t matter.
Its language and pace more or less operates on the same beats as its predecessor, though there are no obvious hints that this sequel is a faraway extension of Vidya Bagchi’s (Kahaani, 2012) universe.
The parallel-narrative device is a playful one, and even staged theatrically in the sort of manner meant to make us second-guess its legitimacy. At times, things are exactly what they seem, even though we expect them to be a little more complicated. Mr. Ghosh’s inability to surprise us itself becomes a pleasant surprise, as is evident from the quashing of our preconceived notions about certain casting decisions. An enigmatic old woman (Amba Sanyal) stands out from this portion – expressing a perverseness unique to pahaadi pearl-and-silk final-generation royalty.
What matters, instead, is the relevance of peripheral figures: Inderjeet, who seems to be filling the sympathetic-cop template (Kahaani’s Parambrata Chatterjee); and the creepiness of a deviously accented hit-woman, who serves as this film’s Bob Biswas – a trope immortalized by Kahaani’s Saswata Chatterjee as the cold-blooded, insurance-selling contract killer.
“Rozi-roti ke liye,” she states, rather matter-of-factly, with the smiling air of a fisher-lady indulging a customer, when asked why she is so heartless. Mr. Rampal’s bemused presence, though, is a bit too self-explanatory; he straight-faces it, obviously ‘in’ on where he exists in context of the storyteller’s tricks.
Gasp-a-minute thrillers, in general, merit plenty of posthumous analysis about their cleverness (or lack of it) and feasibility. We tend to, however, too often criticize a lack of logical thinking – the nature and result of the content – more than its form. It may perhaps become a bad thriller if there are plot holes, but that doesn’t make it a bad film.
If the ‘big twist’ disappoints in the end, as it did for me here, it’s because the makers have raised expectations by crafting a sequence of events that involves, and challenges, its viewers.
Mr. Ghosh strings together a bunch of never-ending hooks, compelling us to constantly believe that an answer is around the corner. As a result, we continue being engaged, spurred on by the narrative’s urgency to throw us off its trail. This time, he noticeably equips proceedings with the audiovisual grammar of a horror film.
Mr. Ghosh’s inability to surprise us itself becomes a pleasant surprise, as is evident from the quashing of our preconceived notions about certain casting decisions.
Jumpy sound cues, a jumpier protagonist, deafening crescendos, ghostly close-ups and a relentlessly illustrative background score tend to unsettle us, fashioning our mindscape to concentrate solely on Vidya’s survival, even if against incomprehensible odds. Hence, we begin celebrating her endurance over her intellect.
For instance, her road accident is shown in all its gory glory: a limp body flung into the air before landing with a sickening thud. After that, every time she crosses a street, I’d close my eyes – and sure enough, there’s another mischievous flash of it, only so that its annoying brutality distracts us from how contrived the next scene is.
Balan’s suffering, both physical and mental, is so unsparing and frightfully human that it’s far easier to imagine the stakes driving her fortitude
Despite vaguely occupying a me-against-world genre similar to Hollywood’s Taken series, there’s still a fierce originality to the very idea of a woman-next-door franchise ‘heroine,’ forever distrustful of both sides of the law, forever in pain, trouble and on the run. Ms. Balan’s character, unlike Liam Neeson’s combative ex-agent ways, revels in the ordinary. Balan’s suffering, both physical and mental, is so unsparing and frightfully human that it’s far easier to imagine the stakes driving her fortitude. In both films, she almost comes across as heroically unhinged, a battered descendent of Naseeruddin Shah’s “common man” from A Wednesday.
From the panicked cloudiness on her face, one can almost sense the bliss and stability preceding her struggles. Because perhaps nobody embodies the fear of loss better than Ms. Balan – who somehow manages to look incapable and intelligent in the same moment.
For all its shortcomings, which I’m ironically not at the liberty of discussing here, Kahaani 2 still remains a relatively smart film.
I’m all for cross-pollination of cinematic universes; it’d have been interesting to see how her Kolkata-cop character from Te3n would’ve handled Durga’s distress.
For all its shortcomings, which I’m ironically not at the liberty of discussing here, Kahaani 2 still remains a relatively smart film. It unfurls within the real world, with the sleight-of-hand flimsiness of an inclusive detective novel.
Except, its viewers can’t afford to be investigators after the case is closed – lest they lose their license for discovering too many questions.