Seemingly seven months pregnant Vidya Bagchi, played by Vidya Balan (we’ll get to her performance in about a minute), arrives, from London, in Kolkata to find her missing husband Arnab Bagchi. On her way to the police station, the local cab plays the timeless tere bina jiya jaaye naa; it’s a helpless wife’s aching cry for her lost companion, and an inherent mother’s longing to locate the father of the unborn child. There’s urgency in the proceedings; you can’t help but feel it too: sympathy, as well as the mounting tension. Forbearing in her quest, she goes on, even though everyone’s constant affirmations – her husband doesn’t exist and never lived in the city – keep heartlessly kicking her in the guts. The city itself, overpowering but with a beating heart, is ready to absorb her and the audience, to the bottom. Kudos to the way it’s been shot, for an inseparable character, it feels. Claustrophobic and yet, in its every nook and corner, festivals and frenzies, people and the language, it’s a city oozing life. But “Everyone in Kolkata has dual identities”, says her confederate – an upright cop Rana. Nothing is as it seems here.
What then, will become of her husband? Is he alive, or maybe dead? Does he exist only in her mind? To reveal anything more than this will be a sin, a violation against the very pleasure of experiencing it firsthand at a theatre near you. But what will be manifested (not for the first time though) is this – Vidya Balan, as a solo lead, has more balls than any male lead would ever have. Her performances in Ishqiya, No One Killed Jessica and The Dirty Picture were mere shadows of the actual screen persona that is put on display in Kahaani. It’s a performance of a different league! Whether it’s her heartbreaking flashes into the past or her heartwarming relationship with the little boy Bishnu that serves running hot water in the guest house she stays; whether it’s the nerve she displays while tackling the harshest of situations or her silently agonistic breakdowns in the middle; Vidya Balan is in sublime form and will literally blow your mind off. As is the case most of the times, with a show stealer of performance like this, supporting characters are often left behind. No, not in here though; for all their skills (wonderfully acted), they stand out, rather effortlessly. Special mention to – the sympathetic and helpful cop Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee), the unapologetically hyperactive Intelligence Bureau Officer Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and the always smiling contract killer Bob Biswas (Saswata Chatterjee). Rest of the supporting cast, in their little roles, fits in well too.
But masterfully constructed stories like this and the dedicated performances don’t pan themselves out; there’s a captain behind the wheel that steers clear of the ruckus and high tides and sails to the safety. This voyage that Sujoy Ghosh (director) took is commendable in all its worth. With ample twists, minus the clichés, to knock you out, he delivers big time and proves that his maiden venture Jhankar Beats – musically brilliant and comically fun – was not a fluke. His forgettable mistakes, Home Delivery and Aladdin, are forgiven. He’s a phoenix who’s risen from the ashes and has a new Kahaani to tell. Several, in India, have treaded this path before; even lesser have succeeded. Keeping it short, fast, sleek and taut, he does well not to overindulge for his own good (a common mistake that filmmakers commit). Music is not a hindrance here; it doesn’t jar and mar the intrigue that was built in the very first scene, and goes on to grip you even tighter, letting you go only when it’s over. The lingering effect persists. It’s so rare that it’s difficult to recall an Indian suspense thriller that was this captivating and emotionally charged. There’s none; Kahaani is the first. Truly a scintillating experience for the senses, including the brain!
4 out of 5 Stars