Kahaani is ridiculously good for the most part. A standard thriller that is built up wonderfully, it manages to hold your attention the full length and some more(the Amitabh Bachchan crooned Ekla Chalo Re at the end credits is something. Alleged mispronunciations apart). Saying anything beyond this will give away the film and that can never be an exciting thing. Vidya Balan is a superstar. Bollywood’s current numero uno, all genders considered, is brilliant and going through a 2002-2006 Dravid-esque form (sorry couldn’t resist). In fact all the actors are first rate and this is surely one of the best photographed movies this year. I can’t remember any other Hindi film – except Yuva and that was 2004 – that painted Kolkata so beautiful in all its crimson and colonial glory. There are only some minor gaffes with respect to the plot and an episode involving hacking but nothing that is unforgivable.
What is unforgivable though is some directorial touches on Sujoy Ghosh’s part that instead of remaining touches end up being a slap and a kick and a smash all over your face. The handling of the mythological subtext is anything but deft. What should have been subtle is nailed upon your head in posters and trailers and for a good part of the conclusion and this expository nature really gets to you and it remains one sole reason why Kahaani stops short of being a great film.
There is something fascinating about the recent spate of “word of mouth” marketing for small/independent films that some overenthusiastic but sincere folks in the social media space have made their bread and butter (their other occupation includes being pretentious and generally dissing Bollywood mostly because it is an easy target. But this debate is for another day.). If you follow some of these people, the publicity can get to you. They are aggressive and incessant and most of it often ends up as hyperbole. It happened with Shaitan, one of the better reviewed small films from last year. I was a bit naive (mostly because I had not really observed these people that well) and took most of it at face value. Shaitan disappointed me and yeah, it could have been the expectations but even then, I read Shaitan as a remake of Paanch (I am not the only one) and that was problematic to me.
That’s where Paan Singh Tomar is different. It’s really as good as people claim it to be. Yes, the words may sound exaggerated but you know to separate wheat from the chaff, don’t you? Tigmanshu Dhulia specializes in handling grey characters and this one is no different. Paan Singh Tomar, the eponymous character was a national steeplechase champion who ultimately became a dreaded dacoit in the Chambal area of Madhya Pradesh. The beauty of the film lies in its narration that is almost tragicomic in nature. You know this is a dreaded rebel (as he calls himself) but there is a deliberate infusion of humor in this process that you feel much closer to him than you will normally. This aspect is not ignored within the larger narrative either. Dhulia’s mission is to humanize the gangster and train the lights on the injustice done to a national champion and this works almost every time. If it doesn’t for you, then there is always Irrfan giving the performance of the year so far (I don’t know how they’ll slot, this movie’s been in the festival circuit for quite some time now). The spark of a youngster, the appetite of a glutton, the stamina of a runner, the mischief of a new husband, the wisdom of a middle aged man and the authority of a rebel – he makes it all work. Watch it for him.