It was particularly depressing to watch Sujoy Ghosh's previous two cinematic efforts in 'Home Delivery' and 'Aladin', especially since both these films came after his refreshing debut 'Jhankaar Beats'. One wondered what had gone wrong and whether 'Jhankaar Beats' was just beginners luck. But all is forgiven. His latest effort, 'Kahaani', is without doubt one of the finest thrillers to emerge from Bollywood. Period. There are many things that Ghosh gets bang-on in this film - the casting (barring the minor error of casting a Bengali actor (who is unable to mask his Bengali-ness) as a South-Indian), the no-nonsense screenplay and the setting. One might have minor quibbles with the all too convenient climax, but that will not stop you from enjoying a masterful game of cat and mouse.
As a viewer you are hooked right from the first frame of the film, as a heavily pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Balan) arrives in Kolkata in search of her missing husband. You then join her on her incredible journey and share her every emotion as the film hurtles towards its thrilling conclusion. She is joined in her search by the well meaning and clearly smitten sub inspector, Satyoki Sinha (Parambrata Chatterjee) and the caustic IB officer Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). The performances are praise-worthy across the board and remain real throughout. Even the minor characters leave a mark, be it the rotund inspector Chatterjee (Kharaj Mukherjee), LIC Agent-by-day-assassin-by-night Bob Biswas (Saswata) or the helpful HR manager Agnes Demello (the late Colleen Blanche, RIP). But the performance of the film comes from the city of Kolkata. The city is intricately portrayed in its many moods, right from being welcoming and homely to suddenly turning menacing and hostile. Its serpentine lanes, dilapidated Victorian buildings and landmarks, as well as its many modes of transport, are used perfectly to immeasurably enhance the urgent pacing (with equal help from the wonderful editing) as well as the mood of the film. The 'Bombay' film has been done to death. The 'Delhi' film is in at the moment. Watch out - you have another contender folks - Kolkata. The film would not have been the same somehow, if placed elsewhere. Perhaps its just the Kolkata fanboy in me, but the atmospherics of the film owes a great deal to the 'dying city', which, ironically, makes the film truly come alive. Full marks to Ghosh and Setu (the cinematographer) for accomplishing this.
'Kahaani' gets a two-thumbsup. Easily. As far as Bollywood thrillers go, this will be right up there as gold standard. There maybe a few blemishes with the plot, but nothing that grates. The film ticks all the right boxes, gets most things right (even the music, despite being pretty good, remains unobtrusive throughout) and is perfectly timed at two hours. There are even a couple of explicit Satyajit Ray references. The Bengalis are clearly loving this film. Looks like everybody else is too.