Vidya Balan is back – as Vidya Sinha and as Durga Rani Singh. Sujoy Ghosh’s dark, atmospheric suspense thriller is held together by her controlled and immersed performance. And lending equal support is Arjun Rampal, who not only provides eye-candy in the policeman’s khaki uniform, but chips in with a solid show.
Writers Ghosh and Suresh Nair have imagined a new story. This is not a sequel to Kahaani (2012) but a whole new scenario, a new plot and a different mystery. But the critical difference is that this version is sadly predictable and overstates its social message (yes, there is one).
The film starts sharply, moodily, setting up characters, intrigue and drama. Balan plays Vidya Sinha, a single parent devoted to her wheelchair-bound daughter Mini. They live a sweet and simple life in Chandan Nagar, Bengal. But suddenly one day Mini vanishes. Her disappearance is a mystery that propels Vidya into the street in a search and rescue operation and straight into the path of a speeding vehicle.
Before you know it the cops are involved. The case is headed by Inderjeet Singh (Rampal), recently transferred to this one-horse town. There’s also a diary with every detail of Vidya’s life. In voiceover via a series of flashbacks we discover who the real Vidya is – or was – eight years ago.
Balan is on-point. Body language, messy hair, clumsy clothing et al. She’s the injured deer in the headlights, damaged goods who finds it hard to open up to love. But she feels a connection with schoolgirl Mini Diwan. The curious Vidya digs into Mini’s life and finds something suspicious at play with the grandmother and uncle. Enter Jugal Hansraj, the chocolate boy Yash Raj Films hero who is unexpectedly exploring all shades of grey! There’s also a hit woman. She’s no Bob Biswas, as we saw in the original. This character is annoying and trying so hard to be sinister, you want to brandish something unsanitised at her.
Leaving the mystery aside, in order to ensure no spoilers in this review, what let’s down Kahaani 2 is its set up not delivering. It’s easy to figure where this is headed. There are plenty of obvious hints and open-ends to the “follow-the-coin” kind of trickery which leads to a foreseeable climax. The editing follows a whodunit style but at 129 minutes there’s enough slack for the viewer to have time to connect the dots. The cinematography and production design add to the gloom and intimacy of spaces, in a film mostly shot indoors, in monochromes.
What lingers long after the final bars of Anandaloke mangalaloke have played out, is Balan as Vidya and Durga – hurting, yearning, drawing on inner strength, with a fierce survival instinct, determined. She gets you ever time she recoils from a man’s touch, or reaches out to connect with a troubled six year old. If only the plot and screenplay had matched up to her towering abilities and commitment.