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June 13, 2013


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Sujoy Ghosh - 2012
Viacom 18 All Region DVD

I first was aware of Kahaani when I was doing some online research into films outside of Hollywood or Europe that displayed the influence of Alfred Hitchcock. To apply the adjective of "Hitchcockian" to Kahaani would be inaccurate, not the least reason being that it would set up certain unfulfilled expectations. But this is still one very good thriller just the same.

A very pregnant woman, Vidya, flies from London to Kolkata, with a police station as her first stop in that city. Her husband as disappeared, and there are no records of anyone knowing anything about him. A very helpful policeman, known by all as Rana, may have dropped a clue when he mentions that many people is this region of India have two names, their family name, and a "pet" name. A connection is found between Vidya's husband and a man said to be connected with the death by gas of passengers in a subway two years earlier, an incident that seems inspired by the Sarin gas attack in Tokyo in 1995. Government agents get involved as there seems to be much more than a missing husband at stake.

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The film pointedly takes place during Durga Puja, allowing both for extra color during the street scenes. More significantly, Vidya is the mother who comes to contemporary Kolkata to uncover and eliminate evil. Also, Vidya proves herself formidable in pursuing the truth about her husband in the face of entirely male opposition.

Duality is emphasized throughout the film. On the lighter side, Vidya is frequently called Bidya. There is also a very courteous hitman, whose daytime job is as Kolkota's worse life insurance salesman. There are also the questions surrounding the identity of Vidya's husband.

Kolkota is something of a major character as well. Sujoy Ghosh breaks away to show street scenes with sidewalk tea cafes and food vendors, a warehouse full of Hindu deities, narrow alleys, and a crowd of women all dressed in red and white saris. Unlike the polished Mumbai of Bollywood films, there's no effort to disguise what appears to be the essential grubbiness of Kolkota, or at least those parts of the city where the film takes place. Contrast is made to the gleaming white, palatial Victoria Monument, seen in the distance. Ghosh's film style is markedly western, with some fast cutting and use of digital effects, as well as incorporating the music as part of the background, yet, unlike some Indian filmmakers, everything is in the service of a very involving story with its share of unexpected twists and turns. The title, in its literal translation means "story", but is without a true English language equivalent, and is suggestive of an Indian narrative tradition of stories within stories.

Made for a relatively low budget, Kahaani was one of Indian cinema's biggest commercial and critical hits of 2012. Aside from star Vidya Balan as the woman in peril, the rest of the cast is of Bengali actors. That it portrays the type of woman uncharacteristic of much of Indian culture can be attributed to Ghosh's collaboration with writer Advaita Kala.

Some thoughts on Kahaani from Girish, as someone who personally knows Kokata.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 13, 2013 07:43 AM