The most fascinating part of fiction, or ‘story' as the word means, is it is not real. Just like magic. Or cinema. There's willing suspension of disbelief, especially when the storyteller tells you upfront, starting with the title, that he's simply going to tell you a story.

Sujoy Ghosh makes for a charming storyteller with this finely crafted, rivetingly paced thriller that makes up for realism with plenty of quirks and twists.

Kahaani is just that sort of mind-game you don't mind losing because the game is much more entertaining than the end result. Not to take away anything from Ghosh's end game, this story just doesn't unfold, it explodes into the colourful streets of festive Kolkata and expects us to keep picking up the pieces of the jigsaw let loose on the screen from scene one.

There's a lot of misdirection, most of it is smart and well-concealed. Most of the twists hit us like a bolt out of the blue and produce genuine moments of surprise. And we surrender to the storyteller instead of trying to second-guess the film, given the fun he seems to be having in telling us this story of a hacker, a woman in search of her missing husband in a city she is a complete stranger to.

Ghosh gives us a thriller charged with the electric atmospherics of an exotic city. What is it about Kolkata that inspires filmmakers to set it as a background for suspense films? We explore its mystery through the eyes of Vidya Bagchi (or Biddha Bagchi as the Bengalis call her) and discover the city's culture and chaos, zipping past it on taxis, trams and Kolkata's Metro rail.

It's that kind of a frenetic ride on which you think you know where you are headed only to find yourself at the edge of the platform, pushed right in front of a speeding train! One moment, it's a dizzying merry-go-round that's gone out of control, and before you know it, it's a rollercoaster of a blind chase as the dazzling narrative pieced together by Setu's energetic cinematography and Namrata Rao's cuts keep us hooked all through its moments of inspired, zany madness.

Be it Bob Bishwas (Saswata Chatterjee), the insurance agent who doubles as a contract killer or the obnoxious rude intelligence officer Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), these are characters destined to be celebrated as ‘cult' years down the line. Just watching the diminutive Nawazuddin Siddiqui chew up the scenery around him with his powerhouse presence is a delight.

But carrying this baby in her maternity clothes, Vidya Balan has truly arrived. This is no Dirty Picture banking on low-cut blouses. This is the Vidya we have grown to love for her choice of roles and her gumption to do what it takes to get into the character. Decades after Rekha, do we have a diva as gifted, an actress so good that she can carry films on the basis of sheer performance, with or without make-up. We totally relate to sub-inspector Rana (the soft-spoken Parambrata Chatterjee) who is happy playing second fiddle, completely in awe of this heroine. We become him, rooting for her throughout the film and discovering the truth through his eyes.

The film does stay on for a few extra minutes than required to spell out the mystery, a decision likely to attract criticism. But having heard from people who still have doubts and questions, maybe it was warranted. It's not every day we get a suspense thriller that demands that we keep thinking and re-evaluating everything we have been told to check for loose ends. Surely he must have dropped a ball juggling all those things or, didn't he?

Catch it before someone gives the ending away. Chances are you will want to watch it again. What a finely spun yarn this is! Mast-must watch.

Kahaani

Genre: Thriller

Director: Sujoy Ghosh

Cast: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saswata Chatterjee, Indraneil Sengupta

Storyline: A pregnant woman comes to Kolkata searching for her missing husband as the hunt leads her to a dangerous doppelganger.

Bottomline: A thrilling mind game you don't mind losing.

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