Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kahaani - A Yarn Well Spun

It was because some friends and family strongly recommended this film and the fact that it stayed for over three weeks in Bangalore cinemas that I felt we should see it.  And I'm happy that we did take the time to do so.  Kahaani ('Story') is an unusual movie - an intelligent and entertaining low budget creation that can give several Hollywood thrillers a run for their money.  There are holes in the plot (this I do not deny, especially in the second half) but the film moves along at an exciting pace (good editing) and you are swept away in the frenzy and colour and chaos that is Kolkata.

Yes, it is set entirely in Kolkata and the characters are amazingly similar to people we have known or met over time in that city - the Bangali babus, the anglo Indians, the east Bengalis with their Burmese features, the culturally rooted west Bengalis, the skilled craftsmen and others.  The scenes are familiar - Durga puja, Kalighat, the Hooghly river, metro stations, street vendors, tiny lanes and byways.  This is the Kolkata we have seen and one that tourists rarely get a glimpse of.  For this reason alone, it is worth watching the film (and I hope a version with subtitles is released).

This is a thriller, but not along the lines of Fleming's or le Carre's novels.  The director, Sujoy Ghosh, seems to have leanings towards Hitchcock and Satyajit Ray (though no comparisons can ever be made with these master film makers).  It is also commendable that such a talented group of actors agreed to work in a film that revolves around a female protagonist - an unglamorous, very pregnant one at that.  The acting is skilled (except for the few south Indian bits, which are not authentic enough!) and a delight to watch with a host of veteran Hindi and Bengali film actors.  A note of caution - this is not a glossy, glitzy production.  It is earthy and uncannily dusty on the whole - it is as if the entire heat and dirt, chaos and struggle of Kolkata is unleashed upon the viewer from beginning to end.  The only things I miss are scenes of home food and adda (long gossip sessions) that are the Kolkata Bengali's trademarks.  (No signs of fish and no mutton curry- that too on ashtami (the eighth day of the pujas)!)  But this is not a documentary on the city.

The music - for a Hindi movie, there is surprisingly little.  Tagore's haunting and inspiring song 'Ekla chalo re' has been sung by Mr. Amitabh Bachchan who has done a surprisingly good job (even if the pronunciation is not completely Bengali).  I can't figure out why a Bengali couldn't have sung it for the film.  I am also not a fan of most fusion music but the youth (especially the youth of Kolkata) like it immensely; perhaps this is why those pop/rock elements figure in the song.  I attach a link, which is the film song overlaid on the official film trailer.  The lyrics (translated into English by Rabindranath Tagore) are:

If they answer not to thy call walk alone,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou unlucky one,
open thy mind and speak out alone.
If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou unlucky one,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.
If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone.

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