A rare original story from Bollywood that engages both mind and heart, Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani lives up to the age old adage that it's not about what you say, it's about how you say. On the surface it is a thriller about a pregnant woman's search for her missing husband in Kolkata but its core attempts to revitalise a gender which is often clubbed with handicapped and senior citizens in public life. On the surface the four writers (Ghosh, Advaita Kala, Suresh Nair and Nikhil Vyas) plot a puzzle that you desperately want to solve but beneath it is full of moments that humanise a pregnant woman on celluloid.
Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi (Vidya Balan) is vulnerable yet resilient. The software engineer finds herself cornered in a city where almost every person is known by two names. Has her software engineer husband, Arnab, also got double identity or does he exist at all? Was he an undercover agent or involved in a terror strik? As the plot thickens, the truth loses its singularity. Police wants to help her, the intelligence bureau wants to stall her but through all this Vidya doesn't lose her zest for life, her ability to smile and see a silver lining as dark clouds gather.
Usually thrillers and mysteries acquire a mechanical tone and don't give much importance to the socio-political underpinning of the story but Ghosh has got plenty of layers to play with, courtesy the likes of Advaita Kala in his team. There are hues of a novel in the story. Be it the innocuous insurance agent Bob (Saswata Chatterjee) who doubles as the smiling assassin or the amiable cop's increasing interest in Vidya or the boy in the hotel who is the embodiment of running hot water, there are many possible digressions but Namrata Rao's taut editing keeps you on the edge and Setu's restless camera captures the City of Joy in not just its festive glory but also a tinge of sadness as Ghosh is in no mood to play a picture postcard.
The very fact that Ghosh dares to look east, which is not considered as a money spinner for Bollywood, to set his story deserves credit. He has cast supporting actors from Bangla cinema ensuring the nuances hit the right note. It is these actors who help us tide over the faults in the screenplay. Every time the mind raises questions (like how a hair clip can be the key to almost all the locks that come Vidya's way?), the heartfelt performances backed by Vishal Shekhar's remarkable background score (peppered with R D classics) ensure that Kahaani doesn't lose its bite. Parambrata Chatterjee stands out as the sincere cop Rana who helps Vidya in her search by almost putting his job in jeopardy and Nawazuddin Siddiqui provides a solid counterpoint as the no-nonsense intelligence cop Khan. But it is Vidya, who once again proves that she makes a hit pair with solid content and that she can hold attention without bringing cleavage into play. In a role which demands constant negotiation with vanity, her eyes speak a lot more than the lines given to her and her smile fills the blank spaces in the script.
Ultimately, thrillers rely on climax. When the director opens the cards and audience puts together the pieces, a logical scenario should emerge. Here when the twist comes, you don't feel cheated rather you go home outsmarted by a clever team.