(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)
The Durga in Kahaani 2 is only in name. This spiritual sequel from Sujoy Ghosh is also called Durga Rani Singh (Vidya Balan). Unlike the original film where the protagonist was drawn from the myths, a rebirth of the Hindu goddess, here there is no such symbolism. There isn’t even an effort to go beyond the material. While evil was always lurking in Kahaani (there was also Bob Biswas), here everyone including the crew is two steps behind.
Ghosh sacrifices narrative coherence for some visual flair. Roads dark and drenched after a downpour, neon lights and sign boards forever flashing, rickshaw drivers, hawkers, and beggars in and out of the frame, dingy clinics and hospitals, sleepy towns breathing just outside of the city. Ghosh attempts a pulpy noir where some genre conventions are found wanting. It’s one thing to see a film for what it is but if that’s all you want from it, then why make it a spiritual sequel of a much loved film. What is the definition of the fairly nascent term – spiritual sequel? It shares the universe of the first film (the West Bengal of Kahaani 2 is forced)? It follows a similar philosophy? It has similarly sketched characters who face very similar problems? All you want to do is compare. The first film had an eccentric investigator in Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Khan. It also had the straight shooting foil in Parambrata Chatterjee’s curiously named Satyaki Sinha. In Kahaani 2 we get Jugal Hansraj in a role we wouldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams. And Arjun Rampal. To be fair, he’s not bad. Not Rock On x (solve for x) bad. But there is no quirk and this is the larger problem with Kahaani 2. There is nothing in Kahaani 2 that latches on to us and says we are watching something more than an intriguing film headlined by a woman. Even she gets the bland name of Durga Rani.
Ghosh also eschews the unreliable narrator, another limb of the first film. Or does he? Kahaani 2 has some really irritating contrivances in its plot. There is a needless attempt to connect characters and bring in a sentimental sidekick. The first film never resorted to such questionable tactics. Does Kahaani 2 work standalone – like Vidya Bagchi of the original – when you forget that the first film exists? Tough to say. It’s clearly not well put together. This year we already had another film set in West Bengal dealing with a missing child and a disturbing past, also with the Kahaani cast of Vidya Balan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Teen, while not a memorable film, at least attempted giving its world some quirks, with its protagonist, his unflinching attitude, his struggles – both internal and external.
Vidya Balan as always is reliable but at this point this is the kind of role she can do with eyes closed. And she does because when Inderjeet (Arjun Rampal) is trying to make sense of the proceedings, Durga is in coma. So are we. I really wanted to see more of Inderjeet’s senior, a far more interesting loudmouth. To watch him solve this case would be spiritual cleansing.