Quite literally, Kahaani is a well told story. It also sirens the changing face of Indian cinema.

Let me say right now that this is not your usual Bollywood run-of-the-mill. If you are expecting typical Bollywood masala with hide and seek romance, dancing around trees, superhero fight scenes and ‘filmy’ dialogue, you will find it in the remaining 999 films that the Indian film industry has on the 2012 assembly line. What works for Kahaani is its atypical narration arising from a well written story, first class cinematography in tandem with good soundtrack, and the performance of a leading actress whose very mention signals the changing face of Indian cinema.

Arriving from London, a heavily pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) heads straight to the Kalighat police station in Kolkata to enquire about her missing husband. With the help of Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee), a rookie cop, Vidya begins to unravel the mystery behind her husband Arnab’s disappearance. Together, their investigation leads to dead ends, but not before learning that Arnab may be linked to a terrorist agent operating as a mole within the Indian Intelligence Bureau. Wrestling with this possibility, Vidya finds herself digging into a high profile federal cover-up, even as an assassin trails her every move.

Co-written by director Sujoy Ghosh, Kahaani is a well-crafted thriller that is simply too good by Bollywood standards, current or past. Gosh has not only set a new benchmark in Indian cinema, his overall production quality is far superior to some of his counterparts across the globe. Even so, the true mettle of his work is in resisting the temptation to glorify India’s stand on terrorism through nation-wide propaganda. Instead, Gosh pays close attention to the screenplay and how it develops through the narration. Pacing is consistent with a serious tone, but well punctuated with some suspense driven moments and subtle humour when you least expect it. Another strongpoint is in keeping the audience guessing all the way to the diabolical twist in the end. To avoid spoiling the surprise, I will just say that this could be borrowed from a certain Angelina Jolie film, but be that as it may, the conclusion here is totally unpredictable and forms the icing on the cake. There are some factual and chronological goofs but there is no point going there because no film is 100 percent perfect.

Dating back to the late 17th century, cinematography captures the historical essence of one of India’s oldest cities – a 300 year old artefact if you wish – in superb celluloid rendition. Gosh gives Kolkata a pulsating heart without unnecessary exaggeration, while simultaneously capturing the hustle and bustle and nooks and crannies of the city with deft camera work. Using this huge backdrop along with the festival of all festivals, The Durga Puja, Gosh underlines the film’s formidable theme of motherhood in seamlessly integrating the fragility of a woman with her in-built yet God-given power to sustain life. From joy to heart-wrenching sorrow, Vidya Balan personifies this ideology with perfection. Fresh off the critical success of The Dirty Picture, Balan is emerging as a powerful force in female driven plots. While this could very well change the perception on Indian cinema, this a welcome change and one that is long overdue. I am smitten as I am awestruck. Also worth mentioning are Parambrata Chatterjee as Rana and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a difficult IB agent. Together, their roles add vital support to Balan’s as well as holding up the plot structure.

As this is my first Hindi film review, I only hope that I have given this film the recognition it deserves. Considering my fondness with all things Hollywood, Ms. Vidya Balan and director Sujoy Ghosh have renewed my faith in Indian cinema. I cannot wait to see Balan’s next film.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.