Let's Go Find Your Husband
Vidya Balan does it again, headlining a solidly crafted drama cum thriller that proved to be a surprise package with a narrative punch. It's edgy and gritty, with wonderful characters and flawless performances, engaging and burying the audience deep within an intense, intriguing investigations that evolved into plenty of irony, complete with melodrama, comedy and action. Suffice to say that it's early in the year, but Kahaani becomes the first off the blocks to be shortlisted as one of the best so far this year.
The film begins in 2008, where we bear witness to an unnamed man whose identity is hidden behind a gas mask, experimenting with a lethal chemical gas on lab rats, before we get to the city of Kolkata where the same weapon of mass destruction got used in a terrorist attack on a subway train that unfortunately wasn't stopped in time. This almost stand-alone setup and prologue will keep you guessing its significance to its story, since the film continues two years later, where Balan's Mrs Vidya Bagchi arrives in the same Indian city from London in search of her husband Arnab (Abir Chatterjee), who as a software engineer worked at the National Data Centre and maintained daily contact until his sudden disappearance two weeks before, with the uncharacteristic cessation of contact prompting his wife to travel thousands of miles to look for him.
Worried, the heavily pregnant Vidya heads straight to the local police to file a missing persons report, and from there starts to visit some of the regular joints her husband could have been in, including his hotel room which had absolutely no traces of the man, nor with people she encountered at those places having any recollection of having seen him, based on their hastily taken matrimonial photo. Assisted by policeman Rana (Parambrata Chaterjee), a slight, mild mannered cop, they soon stumble upon an investigative web filled with unanswered mysteries, and a bewildering suggestion that her husband may not be who he had claimed to be all along. The name Milan Damji gets floated about, a government agent in the mould of Jason Bourne, who may hold the key to Arnab's disappearance, again with clues that he may be more than meets the eye, and at this point your imagination will start to run wild as to the myriad of possibilities the story written by Sujoy Ghosh could turn out.
Ghosh also takes on directing responsibilities, and he has crafted one heck of an engaging thriller amongst some of the best I've seen with scheming twists and carefully plotted turns involving government officials, beat cops, and Intelligence Bureau officers led by the non-compromising Khan (Nawazuddin Sidiqui), who epitomizes a no-nonsense approach with a willing streak to sacrifice pawns to nab the king. With Vijay pushing for the truth, a slew of bodies start turning up courtesy of a hired killer set loose to silence everyone she talks to, giving rise to that sense of danger and death at every wrong turn, it's a closely matched up cat and mouse game everyone seems to be playing against one another on both sides of the law, with Khan's questionable tactics giving rise to the propensity of collateral damage authorities are willing to suffer for the sake of the greater good.
But Ghosh also remembered to balance his superb thriller with emotional anchors, and does this brilliantly through his crafting and development of the protagonists Vijay and Rana, whom we journey together in their search for facts and truth. They play off each other's strengths like Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, with Rana's unassuming disposition balancing Vijay's sprightly nature and relentless determination, making this one of the best cop-civilian pairing I have ever seen as well, being all natural and therefore believable. Credit has to go to Vidya Balan for her sensitive portrayal as a woman hell bent on tracking down her loved one and seeking closure to the sudden mysteries in her life, and Parambrata Chaterjee for his portrayal of a man taking it upon himself to help, and unwittingly finding himself being attracted to and infatuated with someone he has sworn to protect as well. It is this forbidden attraction and romance that's underlying and brewing that he brings out well without going over the top, exhibiting loads of sentimentalism that worked wonders for their chemistry with each other.
Production values are top notch. I absolutely love the gorgeous city of Kolkata which I've seldom seen in Indian films, and here we weave in and out the crowded, bustling city area and into much laid back neighbourhoods, with a fantastic capture of very natural misc-en-scene being a lovely ode to the city, featuring its sights, sounds, people such as the working class from tea sellers to master craftsmen, and festivals. Production designers Kaushik Das and Subrata Barik ensured a very natural look and feel, while cinematographer Setu didn't impress me much with his shaky cam technique that had plagued too many Hollywood films he tried to emulate, but thankfully the second half of the film decided to ditch that misguided documentary feel for camera work that's more sustainable and traditional. The music by Clinton Cerejo and Shekhar Ravjiani worked extremely well in the background without bringing in too much attention to itself, nor do we have jarring breakaway musical interludes to blunt the storyline.
Such is how everything worked together to complement everything else in the making of the film, to churn out a result that's worthwhile of repeat viewings for clues that one may have missed the first time round. It's filmmaking and storytelling at its best, and even I was more than glad to have decided to watch this instead of postponing it. Kahaani propels itself into my shortlist as one of the best this year, and it is certainly highly recommended if you're desperately looking for an intelligent story, great performances, a film that went the whole nine yards in its desire to become a classic.