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Sunday, August 1, 2021

Kahaani 2: Vidya, Arjun and Sujoy Deliver A First-Rate Thriller But…

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Kahaani 2 starring Vidya Balan and Arjun Rampal is a good thriller in itself but if you have tasted blood with the 2012 film Kahaani; the sequel, also directed by Sujoy Ghosh, might let you down.

But…”Kahaani jaisi nahi thi yaar” (it wasn’t like Kahaani) was the hushed accusation by people as they walked out of theatre from an early morning screening on Saturday. A majority of those who watched Kahaani 2 in the first weekend itself tweeted or wrote on similar lines on Facebook, that Kahaani 2 could have had a better Kahaani.

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Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh, to be fair, is a pretty good thriller. Set in the small towns of Chandannagar and Kalimpong in West Bengal, Kahaani 2 is layered genre film, brimming with local flavour and populated by quirky characters, painted with fine strokes.

There’s a meaty central plot with strong performances by its primary players and most importantly, a chilling villain at the centre which raises the stakes for our heroine Durga Rani Singh AKA Vidya Sinha (Vidya Balan). Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh gets it right. Mostly.

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However, films don’t exist in vacuum. Kahaani 2 was and is destined to exist in the shadow of 2012’s Kahaani – there’s just no two ways about it – as much as Sujoy Ghosh or any self-respecting fan of noir cinema would want Kahaani 2 to just be.

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What Kahaani was, was a game-changer. It was a song-and-dance-less Hindi thriller, shot in a labyrinthine, nightmarish Kolkata – as far as one can get from Bollywood’s traditional Victoria-Museum-and-Football-at-Maidan depiction of the city.

It had a pregnant female ‘hero’ in the centre with a huge baby bump, with no on-screen love track or any titillating sex scene. It featured a host of prominent Bengali actors, unknown to the Hindi film-viewing audience, playing major characters and the film did not have anything ‘filmy’ or ‘Bollywoodeseque’ going for it.

Kahaani was almost like a Bengali detective thriller a la Feluda or Byomkesh, made in Hindi, for the Bollywood audience, and, somehow, it worked! The film made on a budget of less than Rs 8 crore had a worldwide box office collection of over Rs 100 crore and won three National Awards.

Now, between Kahaani and Kahaani 2, came a plethora of frustratingly bad to pretty darn good thrillers made in the same ‘space’ – plot-heavy, song-and-dance-less, fast-paced thrillers with strong central characters. On the one hand, we got stellar films like Badlapur, Ugly and NH10. On the other hand, we got a major debacle like Wazir.

The dharma of a sequel is to not just be a good film in itself, but give the fans of the first film MORE. The director of the sequel gets a two-fold responsibility: 1. Make a good film, obviously and also, 2. Deliver the goods that made the first film fantastic in the first place (in the case of Kahaani, sinister villains, the crazy assassin Bob Biswas, a too-strange-to-be-true plot twist, etc.). This second responsibility is what marketing heads in studios call ‘giving the fans what they want’.

Kahaani 2, a fine film, truly, is held back by the sky-high expectations the audience have developed over the years after having watched Kahaani and being exposed to such post-Kahaani thrillers as Badlapur and the global hit Gone Girl.

Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh is not a straight-forward sequel, in the sense, that it does not carry forward the story of the first film’s Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan). The characters that made Kahaani memorable don’t return in Kahaani 2, though some of the actors who shone in the first film (Anindya Banerjee, Kharaj Mukherjee, Nitya Ganguly) do return in the sequel, albeit playing entirely different characters.

Regardless of the differences, Kahaani and Kahaani 2 share a number of tropes that held together and gave flavour to the story of the first Kahaani, viz. a protagonist Vidya who may or may not be who she says she is, a good-natured cop stuck in the middle (Parambrata Chatterjee’s Satyaki there, Arjun Rampal’s Inder here), tension between a lower-ranking ‘good cop’ and his superior, a ‘bad cop’ (Parambrata vs Nawaz there, Arjun vs Kharaj Mukherjee here), an assassin with an unassuming day job (insurance agent Bob Biswas there, a female police constable here), an unique never-before-seen-in-Bollywood setting (the bylanes of Kolkata there, the small towns of Chandannagar and Kalimpong here), a backdrop peppered by the narrative of the heroine as a mother fighting against the world… the list goes on.

This is where the audience can make a connection between the two films, which otherwise are not connected at all, and if these elements make the Kahaani series a special one-of-a-kind beast, it is these very elements that play the real villain to Kahaani 2. One could argue that the assassin here isn’t as sinister as Bob Biswas, the twist here isn’t as twisted as the first film’s, so on and so forth.

But that’s the thing with sequels. The world’s best sequels deliver something entirely different from the content of the first film. While Ridley Scott’s Alien was a claustrophobic psychological thriller, James Cameron’s Aliens was a loud, noisy, action film.

While Batman Begins was a nifty origin story, The Dark Knight expanded on themes of good and evil brimming with pop-psychology. But then, Kahaani 2 is not really that different from Kahaani. It has the same central elements and it is on account of this sameness that Kahaani 2 doesn’t seem ‘good enough’.

Because what Kahaani 2 does really well…Kahaani did better.

Online Source: India Today.

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