Everything changes but nothing really does. Filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh returns with actor Vidya Balan after four years in the second of his woman-centric thriller franchisee, which tells a new, unconnected story, about a mother’s search for her kidnapped daughter (as against the quest for the missing husband in Kahaani). While keeping up with the suspense in the predecessor, Kahaani 2 tries to strike a bigger emotional chord by highlighting a significant yet unspoken issue, brushed under the carpet in many refined, cultured families. However, the storytelling itself — its highs and lows — are highly reminiscent of the prequel (if you can call it that, for the sake of convenience).
The setting shifts to Chandan Nagar. If Kahaani was a sensuous ode to the sprawling Kolkata, Ghosh tries to bring alive the small town feel of the outskirts with a melange of sights and sounds — the rain-wet nights, the local train to Howrah, the jol bhora sandesh, the modest homes and neighbourhoods, the decrepit, sleepy cop stations with their peeling wall paint, the crumbling hospitals. It’s a slice of life redolent with nostalgia.
But the film also travels back and forth in time (with the device of a diary) beyond Chandan Nagar — to the cold and creepy Kalimpong and the bustling Chinatown in Kolkata. Then there’s the constancy of songs in the surroundings, specially the Bengali versions of popular Hindi film numbers — from “Ye mere bandhe haath” to “Do naino mein aansoo bhare hain” (not to forget the hat tip to Basu Chatterjee’s Rajnigandha). For Ghosh, places are also characters in themselves — with sights and sounds.
The filmmaker had a far more whimsical range of people to play with in Kahaani. Someone like the enigmatic, oddball LIC agent played by Saswata Chatterjee in the prequel goes missing here. But Ghosh continues to spell out his characters in detail. Each of them — even the beggar on the street — has a presence and personality.
As Durga/Vidya, Vidya Balan — in her Shantiniketan batik print nighties, sweaty blouses, rumpled cotton saris —swinging between home and office, is a believable portrait of a hard-at-it middle class mother. She is equally convincing as a hemmed in young woman, who is unable to exorcise her ghosts of the past and is thus easily able to empathise with another’s misfortune. Arjun Rampal lands up a role of consequence — a cop (Inderjit Singh) with a past, with a hunger for promotion and hope of transfer to Lal Bazaar — and he slips into it with ease. Naisha Khanna as little Mini is a perfect picture of innocence you feel protective towards. And, it’s quite a full circle of a journey for Jugal Hansraj as Mini’s uncle here from his debut as a child artiste in Masoom, over three decades ago.
Just like in Kahaani, Ghosh hits the spot in the first half, a few gaping plot holes notwithstanding. He plays it straight and simple, steers clear of gimmicks and flourishes in the quick build-up. The mystery is not as confounding here but the crime gets darker and disturbing in its everydayness. There are enough hints about people and their relationships with each other, many giveaways to know what exactly is coming up next. He doesn’t hide any pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and takes the audience along in putting it together. However, even though you are quite aware of the sinister lurking behind the normal, he doesn’t let up the tension and holds you in his grip. He also makes you invest emotionally in the fate of the players.
Again, just as in Kahaani, things veer out of control in the second half. After setting things up well, Ghosh flounders in tying up all the loose ends. The finale gets sloppy and the overarching issue, handled sensitively in the first half, gets almost lost in the settling of scores and a race to punishment. Also, the urgency to explain every detail to the audience takes the intrigue away, especially if you’d have seen it coming. Some things are better left unsaid.