A lot of things happen on screen in the first half hour of Kahaani 2. Vidya Sinha (Vidya Balan), a single mother, comes home from work to realise that her daughter Mini, a paraplegic teenager, has been kidnapped. In a few minutes, a fatal accident lands Vidya in a run-down government hospital, where a young police man recognises her as Durga Rani Singh, another person from another time.
The pace is so swift, barely giving us a moment to stop, breathe and gather the clues. Why would anyone want to break into the modest life of this mother and daughter? How can this woman, who is so earnestly engrossed in her uneventful life as a plain working woman, be someone else with a bottled up and hidden away history? The narrative is skilfully built up that we don’t pause in between and raise questions.
One should be grateful for Sujay Ghosh and his never-exhausting bundle of Kolkatan stories. Without him, and the tales of quest, crime, grief, and life set in the city of joy, would contemporary Bollywood be as interesting as it is? Not likely. What links Kahaani 2 to Kahaani is Kolkata, Ghosh, and Vidya Balan. And a general mistrust of the police and the State. What does Ghosh do differently to craft such interesting thrillers? His films are soaked in the humidity and dust of Kolkata’s air. The colours and clamour of the streets, the crowded and dirty sidewalks and metro stations, and the monotony of the everyday life in Kolkata come alive wonderfully.
For one, the sequence where Vidya hurriedly drapes a cotton saree around her and runs towards the metro station is brilliant. There is no attempt to hide her sweaty armpits or the rolls of fat on her belly. She pauses for a moment at a cycle-rickshaw stand and then continues to run, and without any prompting, you link it to the previous scene where Mini had asked her to hire a rickshaw to the metro and ‘not be a kanjooz‘. She enters the metro station, closing her nose with a palm, like everyone else on the platform, thanks to the layer of smoke and dust raised by a passing train.
In a different instance, Arjun Rampal gets out of his bed in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. We see him in the dark, trying to pull something out from the back of his refrigerator, something that turns out to be a cigarette packet. This moment convincingly brings Rampal, who seem unable to shed that elite, dapper demeanour completely, closer to this compact middle-class home where wife keeps a check on her husband’s smoking habits. A powerful narrative device.
Later, we see him chasing a con through narrow alleys and rooftops. There is a visible hesitance in his pace. Every time the conman slips from his hold, he pauses and says, “Kyaa Yaar!” Why are you making me run so much! Rampal’s Indrajeet is at once a diligent investigator and a lethargic government servant.
These vignettes and blown-up images of ordinary life is what makes Kahaani a very delectable franchise.
And Vidya Balan. What a terrific actor!
Her Vidya Sinha/Durga Rani Singh is a person with a troubled childhood, which continues to haunt her adulthood. Durga is meek and timid. Even while with a man who loves her unconditionally, Durga is nervous. Vidya Balan reflects Durga’s inner fears in every move, in every line she mouths. This fear that shuts her up, later strengthens her to step up and act. In a crucial scene, she delivers a powerful blow to her assailant, and the next moment, she cowers again.
Never in the film does Durga admit that Mini isn’t her child, although her diary entries make it clear that it isn’t true. The film’s portrayal of this relationship is, again, different from the lines of a regular mother-child bond. They are two individuals with a similar past. And what binds them together is the hope for a new life.
Finally, we have a mainstream Bollywood film that addresses the issue of child sexual abuse in its real form. Without explosive screaming and dramatic finger-pointing in family gatherings, something that is now Alia Bhatt’s forte. The abuse victim in Kahaani 2 is a 6-year-old who doesn’t realise what is going on. She wholeheartedly believes that she would be denied her uncle’s ‘love’ if she complains about their nocturnal ‘game’ to someone else. It’s another adult who points fingers and protests. “Why would family members abuse their own little girl?”, asks the child’s principal, to which Durga replies, more helplessly than in anger, “You are blind. The world is blind. That’s why you don’t see this crime.” Abuse is often, invisible, coated in love and affection. Yet, it never ceases to be abuse.
Kahaani 2 is many things at the same time. It’s not just a kidnap drama, but also a story about how a child abuse victim quietly struggles to return to normal life. It’s a poignant relationship drama. Nothing is made up to look too profound or mysterious. Yet mystery unfolds by itself. It possesses a fine sense of humour that makes its presence felt without pulling down the weight of the main plot. It’s a stone-faced whodunnit story, but it also carefully looks into the whydunnit part of the crime and makes an impressive study on human instincts and crime and punishment.
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