Cast: Vidya Balan, Arjun Rampal, Naisha Singh, Jugal Hansraj, Amba Sanyal
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
The first thing you should know about Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh is that the film has nothing to do with Kahaani, which released four years ago. The story and characters are unrelated. So why is this film called Kahaani 2? Sujoy Ghosh, who wrote and directed both films, described Kahaani as a genre, a genre about strong women-oriented narratives. Another descriptor might be thrillers set in and around Kolkata, starring Vidya Balan as an unlikely superhero. She powers both films, making even the most illogical scenes convincing. And of course her characters save the day.
In this installment, we first see her as Vidya Sinha. It's a fictitious name inspired by the 70s heroine. Vidya is an over-worked single mother, who dotes on her crippled teenage daughter. Sujoy expertly establishes the rhythms of their relationship and their seemingly ordinary lives. They live in a sleepy, small town near Kolkata. It feels like a safe haven but within minutes, Vidya's daughter Mini disappears. Vidya is knocked down by a car and we are plunged into the heart of darkness.
The first half of Kahaani 2 is superbly constructed. The story unravels in flashback as sub-inspector Inderjeet Singh reads Vidya's diary. We are introduced to Mini's sinister grandmother and slightly creepy uncle – Amba Sanyal and Jugal Hansraj are pitch perfect and the quietly heroic Arjun Rampal adds heft. Editor Namrata Rao keeps the pace breathless – there isn't a wasted frame or moment. I like to take notes during films but I was so engrossed that I barely wrote anything.
And then, as it happens too often in Hindi cinema, the curse of the second half strikes. Kahaani 2 becomes both pulpy and predictable. The narrative gets looser and less believable. The characters become exaggerated – for me, the final straw was an assassin with a blade. And the storytelling gets so clumsy that you know exactly how things will pan out. Kahaani 2 feels like a meal, which begins with appetizers in a Michelin-star restaurant and ends with dessert in a dhaba. It's unsatisfying.
But I still recommend that you see the film – for that killer first-half and for the brilliance of Balan. This might be a flawed franchise but I'm looking forward to Kahaani 3.