"The greatest trick that the devil ever played, was to convince the world that he did not exist and then poof! just like that he was gone!" As the stupid cripple, Verbal Kint walked out of the police station, agent Kujan sits on his desk sipping coffee, when suddenly it dawns upon him and the whole charade falls into place. The concocted story, the random subjects and the bloody brilliance of the whole thing. The Usual Suspects, to me, is the pinnacle of thriller stories.
What Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani is, a remarkable effort of a new age director who doesn't fear making a strong story the hero. Its hard to believe that the director who made the Ritesh Deshmukh starring 'Alladin' could dish out something like this. After Ishqia, Delly Belly, LSD and PST, this is another feather in the cap of a reinvented Bollywood.
Kahaani, begins with a heavily pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Balan), landing in Kolkatta, armed with only a Evian water bottle and steely resolve to find her missing husband, Arnab Bagchi. Arnab, a Firewall expert, like his wife, had landed in National Data Center for a two week assignment and suddenly disappeared without a trace. The strange part is that there is no record of any Arnab arriving, staying or working in Kolkata. Is he for real or just a reality in Mrs.Bagchi's head?
A visit to the Kalighat police station to file a missing person's complaint, introduces us Asst. Sub Inspector Shotyoki Sinha aka Rana (played by a superb Parambrata Chaterjee). From here on he becomes her real shotyoki (Arjun's sarathi), walking side by side, unraveling the twists and turns of the story. Vidya or Bidda, as everyone in Kolkatta calls her, hits a blank at every connection of her husbands'. The seedy hotel where he was staying says he never arrived there, NDC claims there was no such assignment, the school where he studied says no Arnab Bagchi was a student there. The HR manager at NDC Agnes, however feels that her husband's face resembles an ex-employee Milan Damji, who worked there two years ago. This line of investigation sets the cat among the pigeons, with even the Intelligence Bureau (IB) jumping into the fray. A shady LIC agent doubling up as a contact killer, Bob Biswas (Saswata Chaterjee) is assigned to bump off the geriatric Agnes for ruffling leaves. The story moves on at a fast pace and with each new plot unfolding, it becomes clear that Arnab's disappearing act is strongly connected Milan Damji, who is the prime suspect of the Kolkata Metro massacre that killed over hundred civilians, over two years ago. That is the reason, IB agent Khan (Nawabbudin Siddique), hot on the heels of the Damji, is hell bent of keeping Mrs. Bagchi away from the investigation, lest she upset the applecart. But with the help of a mole within the bureau, Damji is always a step ahead of the law. The plot takes us though the backdrop of the attack with the leads trying to piece together the bits of Damji's life in order to reach him and hence Arnab. The climax set during the tumultuous time of Durga Pujo, is the perfect finale to a tightly woven story with an unbelievable ending. (I wont spoil your fun, by elaborating it. Go catch the movie for yourself).
The first thing that really hits you in the movie is the detail to character. Rarely has Bollywood, shown stories of platonic love: no cheesiness, no melodrama, no lust. For Rana, she is talented, relentless, beautiful and so brave. At times he is in awe of her, at times protective and most times just glad to help her out. Bob Biswas, the unassuming hitman, who greets people before shooting them is creepy and loveable at the sametime. Bishnu aka 'Running Hot Water', the affable helping hand in the hotel, who takes his little transistor everywhere he goes, Chaterjee, the portly inspector who hates the beeping computer, Khan the angry young man from IB, everyone has space and meaning in the story. But the strongest character is Kolkata itself. It lives, breathes and grows upon you, especially during the Pujo times. The vibrant colors, the suffocating traffic, the endless din, the yellow cabs and the piping chai, the processions all make you love and hate the place at the same time.
The cinematography is really slick and no praises are enough for Sethu for having captured the heart of the city and the depth of the characters though the lens. Even sharper is the editing of Namrata Rao, who is raking in medals after movies like LSD, Oye Lucky and BBB. The screenplay and story by Sujoy Ghosh is pacy and almost water tight. Music by Vishal-Shekar is complementary especially the opening number "Ami Shotti Bolchi" by Usha Uttup is well sung, well arranged and superbly shot. The casting is brilliant and every actor does justice to the well crafted roles. Unheard of till now, Bengali actor Parambrata Chatterjee, as the cop willing to go any distance to help the lady in distress is a revelation. The scenes where his sense of protection overpowers him and he calls her Vidya and not Mrs.Bagchi, his daily calls to his mother while returning home from work are all very endearing. The director also ekes out strong performances from the remaining cast, especially Nawbuddin Siddique as Khan and Saswata Chaterjee as Bob Biswas. But at the end of the day, it is all about Vidya Balan. There are few heroines today who can shoulder a movie on their own and Vidya proves again that why she is setting the pedestal so high. She is alternatively vulnerable and brave, driven only by the dogged determination to find her husband. Her ability to portray the complexities within the character and her metamorphosis from a helpless pregnant woman to Ma Durga is captivating. She is without a doubt, the new Khan of Bollywood.
The movie ultimately, is the director's baby. Never-heard-of-before director, Sujoy Ghosh manages to do what every movie should do well - tell a good story well. The direction is taut and never loses steam. There are several intentional and unintentional references and tributes to other movies and directors. Being a big fan of Satyajit Ray, Ghosh has a lot of scenes which celebrate Ray, like the camera staying within the car, scenes inspired by Aranyer Dinratri, shots of the metropolis similar to Ray's masterpiece 'Mahanagar' or the lonely wife opening the windows to watch the world in Charulatha. The climax also unintentionally pays tribute to other classics like the chaotic Pujo ending, similar to the Ganapati Visarjan in Agneepath and the lal-paad sari clad Balan lost in the crowd, similar to the fantastic Bowler Hat climax in Peirce Brosnan's 'The Thomas Crown Affair'.
Its a brave new breed of Bollywood today, where the trailers live up to the expectations. I'm loving it!