Kahaani: Once Upon a Time in Kolkata

Sujoy Ghosh spins a Kahaani featuring a heroine you can’t help but root for. With the backdrop of Kolkata’s Durga Puja celebration and the overarching metaphor of the mother goddess coming to life to accomplish what the gods never could, Ghosh crafts a masterful thriller…and a wrenchingly human story of loss.

At the center of it all is Vidya Balan, who has cemented her place as Bollywood’s go-to dramatic powerhouse. On the heels of her mesmerizing turns in Ishqiya and The Dirty Picture, Balan again commands the spotlight. She embodies the fiery role of mother, wife and determined sleuth Vidya Bagchi like she just stepped out of the Hindu pantheon. And that’s a deliberate narrative choice! In drawing from the goddess worship that permeates Hindu culture, and Kolkata in particular, Ghosh celebrates the strength and determination of women in a wholly desi fashion. Vidya Bagchi is kickass on multiple levels, and she doesn’t need to be Lara Croft or Evelyn Salt to get the job done. She’s vulnerable, but also immeasurably powerful. Kahaani is a riveting ride from start to finish, and, make no mistake, it’s Vidya Balan in the driver’s seat.

This talented performer has proven she can play the ingenue, the sexpot and the avenging angel with equal finesse. Playing the role of a woman who is eight months pregnant, Balan moves like she’s really carrying low and about to give birth. But Vidya the character is also pregnant with the desire for truth, and that is what she seeks to birth throughout the course of the film.

 

The supporting cast of primarily Bengali character actors is also excellent, with Parambrata Chatterjee bringing a core of innocent, noble, decency to Satyoki “Rana” Sinha. Named after Arjuna and Krishna’s fierce charioteer from the Mahabharata, Rana serves the same purpose for Vidya, guiding her safely through the battlefields of bureaucratic red tape and Kolkata’s dark, criminal underbelly. Nawazuddin Siddiqui vibrates with charisma and menace as the razor-focused Khan, in a turn reminiscent of Vijay Raaz’s work. And Saswata Chatterjee’s mild-mannered Bob — a hat tip to Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita? — joins the Bollywood villain Hall of Fame for the shivers he induces.

The film itself is fast-paced, with tight direction and a great script. You feel immersed in Kolkata, cocooned in rapid-fire Hindi and Bengali and the festive sights and sounds of Durga Puja. Those who’ve been there will be rendered nostalgic for the noise and the crush, and those who’ve never experienced it will get a rich taste of the city.

If you’re craving one Hell of a good yarn with a stellar cast, then pull up a chair and listen to this twisting tension-laced Kahaani.

 

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