Ribhu Dasgupta really wants you to care for John Biswas (Amitabh Bachchan). He opens with John in the police station making space on the bench for two felons. He’s uncomfortable but that’s due to age and weariness. He is also impatient but you get that this is not the first time he is doing this. Dasgupta doesn’t leave it here but follows John in his scooter – a rickety machine with questionable spark plug – home, him doing all the chores from cooking to fixing the fan to laundry, all decorated by Bachchan’s practiced gait. John’s spark burns on though for one reason – his granddaughter, her kidnapping and death eight years ago that he is still trying to solve.
Te3n is an official remake of South Korean movie Montage which I have not watched. Te3n wants to work as a whodunit for the most part but it also follows significantly different strands. A case from eight years ago remains incomplete leaving two men in the lurch – one emotionally broken and another professionally compromised. The former keeps at it the same way he keeps kick-starting his scooter while the latter – Nawazuddin Siddiqui as former cop Martin – turns to God. But something keeps gnawing at Martin – either his hunger that was never satiated or the guilt that he talks about when he visits John’s home – and he keeps returning to the case.
Dasgupta overdoes the pitiable state of John and his wheelchair using wife like he overdoes many things in the film. This is the only angle used to make us care for his plight but that is not enough. There is the exposition. Several scenes are repeated for our benefit. The grandaughter’s name is Angela and while it would have worked as it is, we are lectured on why that name. There is also a strange case of withholding information that reduces the film to an idiot plot. Dasgupta follows two investigations, the one man army of John and the other with Sarita (Vidya Balan) and Martin investigating a curiously similar kidnapping case. But he is also too opaque with his timeline. The police part of the investigation is an absolute sham. A trigger-happy Sarita and skeptical Martin are at odds with each other even as the number of police officers looking for the kidnapped kid tends to zero.
Dasgupta is also no Reema Kagti in that he cannot dredge up atmosphere that would have made a big difference in this story. His Kolkata is colorless but with character and forever forlorn – Durga Puja and Christmas notwithstanding. That is mirrored in the roles of Bachchan and Siddiqui, both of them reliable but never rising above the material. Neither does Dasgupta.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)