There’s an interesting incident towards the end of Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’, where the narrator goes to a video rental store somewhere in the US. As he browses through the titles, a stranger picks up a copy of ‘The Magnificent Seven’. He gives a nod of approval to the stranger. The stranger asks him if he has seen the film. The narrator enthusiastically replies, yes, several times, and goes on to say how the Yul Brynner character dies in the end. At this, the stranger makes a face, puts the film back on the shelf and leaves. Why? The narrator later realizes that he spoiled the excitement of finding out the end for the stranger.
This is the bone of contention for a film critic. How much is he going to say about a film without spoiling the chance of the viewer to figure it out himself? This is the whole fun of going to the movies in the first place, isn’t it? In the West these days, especially in popular film criticism, giving out important plot points of a film is an unpardonable offence. The situation is such that critics have to write a disclaimer, SPOILER ALERT, before they can reveal anything remotely important to the plot, beyond the first 15 minutes of the film, so that a discreet reader, who doesn’t want to ‘spoil’ his viewing experience, can avoid reading this.
Like the narrator in ‘The Kite Runner’, the Indian audience is usually open to the idea of knowing the story and what happens and how it ends. I mean, look at an average Hindi film. We all know that at the end the hero and the heroine is going to get married, nothing can stop them. What motivates us to watch the film is how, how they finally meet.
In this context, the new Vidya Balan vehicle, ‘Kahaani’, is more like a Hollywood thriller than an average Hindi film. Here’s a film where you are forbidden to reveal the end. There is a major plot twist. But, I cannot tell you if Vidya Bagchi manages to find her missing husband.
The success of a film like this, films with a major twist, lies not in the build-up, but in the payoff. When the truth is revealed and the puzzle is solved, the payoff should be justified. This is, I think, one of the reasons why ‘Kahaani’ succeeds. When everything is revealed, we do not feel cheated. That’s an achievement.
The Hindi word ‘Kahani’ has several meanings; the most useful one being that it’s a make-believe story. So, when we see a pregnant woman visit a police station soon after landing in Kolkata from London, that too after seeing a metro train full of people being killed by a chemical, we know something is wrong. But, we have no clues how skewed the things are. The pregnant woman is Vidya Bagchi and she in Kolkata looking for her husband, Arnab, who has apparently gone missing.
There are two landmarks without which Kolkata cannot be represented in films, the Victoria Memorial and the Howrah Bridge (for example, in ‘Yuva’, one of the characters live in a house from whose windows you can see the bridge. Neat!). But, in ‘Kahaani’, we see a Kolkata never seen before, raw and real, where contact killers sell life insurance. This contradiction explains everything.
I guess it rather difficult to review a good movie than a bad one. ‘Kahaani’ is a good movie; it achieves what it sets out to achieve, to be a thriller, which moves in a breakneck speed, and constantly on the run. I admire the director, Sujoy Ghosh, (who made the charming ‘Jhankaar Beats’ before making several duds like Ritesh Deshmukh film ‘Alaadin’) and his restrain. There was a perfect opportunity to insert a song in the middle of the film, when the rookie police officer, Rana, begins to fall in love with Vidya. But the whole thing is dispensed with in a matter of few seconds. Such brevity!