Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Kahani’ is sublime

 
A man with a good, twisted sense of humour is one who has invariably experienced some manner of trauma or tragedy and has lived to tell the tale.  Personal misfortune leads people to reassess their influence on others, to prove themselves to be different and then sit back and smirk as the world sits up disoriented and breaks into uncontrollable giggles.
Sujoy Ghosh is undoubtedly a man with a wicked sense of humour and who can blame him?  A self-taught filmmaker who was inspired by Satyajit Rai’s films, Ghosh’s first film – Jhankar Beats – was surprisingly successful.
His next two – the farcical ‘Home Delivery’ and the insipid ‘Aladin’ – were unmitigated disasters.  Aladin in particular, was widely hyped and promised a unique take on a much loved story and featured a Bollywood legend, a beautiful newcomer and enough tech to put Steve Jobs’ home office to shame.
The film however was panned by critics and audiences stayed away in droves and Ghosh – figuratively at least – went into hiding.
Reeling from his spectacular fall from grace, Ghosh went away and drowned his sorrows by penning his latest release ‘Kahani’, a film that has been three years in the making which is the equivalent of a millennium in Bollywood terms.
Set in Ghosh’s birthplace of Kolkatta, the film stars Bollywood’s woman of the moment Vidya Balan; fresh from her National Film Award success and still basking in the glory of her acclaimed turn as Silk Smitha in ‘The Dirty Picture’.
It’s not difficult to see why Balan is described as the industry’s most versatile actress as she sheds the anxiety and hedonism of the tragic south Indian siren and morphs into the slightly disoriented yet determined Vidya Bagchi.  Vidya is six months pregnant and has come to Kolkatta from the UK in search of her husband without so much as a phone number for a lead.  She’s encumbered, alone and confronted by a chaotic city teeming with cynical men.
It’s a thrilling pursuit, one which culminates in a quite sublime twist that will leave you breathless.  In fact, Ghosh's PR skills are excellent.  The UKAsian interviewed Ghosh in the run up to Kahani’s release but much of what was said about the movie during the conversation is redundant given the film’s extraordinary narrative.
It’s difficult to imagine the difficulty of Ghosh’s journey from the disaster of Aladin to Kahani but my word it is a triumph.  His direction is terrific, fusing the near-bedlam of one of the world’s greatest cities with the anguish of this mother to be and taking us all for a ride.
The city is as much a character as Vidya Bagchi and cinematographer Setu captures it in all its’ vibrant, grimy glory.  “When I wrote the film, I knew the city would play an important role and the only two Indian cities I know well are Mumbai and Kolkata.  I chose the latter, because it is the most unassuming city to set a crime in.  I needed to shoot the film during Durga Puja.  That's one time when all of Kolkata thinks like one and everybody's on the same frequency - happy, buying clothes, planning holidays, praying to Ma. The movie is the story of one woman pitted against this mass, the only sad soul in the midst of happy people.  That made Vidya's character stand out” Ghosh says.
‘Stand out’ is perhaps an understatement.
Balan once again alights from the screen and grabs you by the scruff of the neck.  Perhaps the most overriding characteristic of her acting style – one which most other actresses in Bollywood sorely lack – is the manner in which she elicits the empathy of the viewer.
That fact is nowhere more evident than in Kahani.  Her anguish is almost tangible and her resolve inspiring. It would be best if she prepared her acceptance speech for her next National Film Award.
Kahani is everything that hogwash such as Players is not: intelligent, thrilling, subtle and deeply moving.
It is cinema at its best.
-    Vijitha Alles

Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Kahani’ is sublime

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