While Vidya Balan plays her fascinating character with aplomb, the film fails to pull off the genre-balancing act of the original Kahaani.
Durga Rani Singh (Vidya Balan) doesn’t walk as much as she wanders, perpetually looking lost and clueless. Wearing a cardigan, sneakers and pyjamas, Durga also looks sleep deprived and short of confidence. Words, sentences, at times even common sense, elude her, and even in a small town like Kalimpong, which is far away from the din and bustle of cities, she prefers being locked inside her house. Durga is scared: of herself, of her past, of falling in love. But, despite her own complications, she wants to rescue someone who doesn’t even know its meaning. Durga, the lead of Kahaani 2, a thriller directed by Sujoy Ghosh, is a fascinating character and is played, as one would expect, with aplomb and finesse by Balan, but the film doesn’t do her as much justice.
Kahaani 2, though, isn’t completely devoid of merits. Like Kahaani, Kahaani 2 isn’t just interested in being a straightforward thriller, in the nuts and bolts of the case, but also seems to strives for a larger meaning and mood. Here, Ghosh doesn’t only care about his principal characters and the scenes that advance the story, but also the characters’ world and inner-lives. In an early scene in the film, Vidya Sinha (Balan), a resident of Chandan Nagar (a small town on the outskirts of Kolkata where the film’s originally set), is worried that the maid hasn’t come on time; she has to leave for work but doesn’t want to leave her daughter, a paralytic teenager, alone at home. A worried Vidya, nevertheless, rushes downstairs, as she’s getting late for work, but suddenly stops in her tracks, stirred by an instinct that only mothers possess – that something isn’t right. She goes upstairs again and tells her neighbour to keep a check on her daughter. Later, as Vidya is out on the streets, making her way to the bus stand, we see a ragamuffin rummaging through the trash in his bag, intently looking at a bottle of toilet cleaner.
Kahaani 2, however, can’t let go of the trappings of the genre. So it sets up a case (the abduction of Vidya’s daughter), introduces settings and characters, and invites us to join the dots. After sub-inspector Indrajeet Singh (Arjun Rampal) chances on a diary that belongs to Vidya – who is comatose after a road accident – Kahaani 2 cuts from Chandan Nagar to Kalimpong, detailing her past life. Set in two different towns and times, Kahaani 2 is packed with subplots, characters and motifs, but they never come together adequately. Moreover, Durga’s efforts to solve a case in Kalimpong materialise through such ease and convenience that they remind you of a Nancy Drew novel, which is strange given that Kahaani 2, at various other points, seems to be rooted in reality. In fact, this constant tension – between the tropes of a pulpy detective novel and the elements of a sombre drama – considerably mar the film, making it uneven.
It also doesn’t help that a few key characters, after a point, start shedding their ambiguities and emerge as textbook villains, turning a complex film into a formulaic one. Kahaani 2 also can’t make up its mind about what it wants to become: a racy thriller, a poignant drama or (much like Kahaani, which smartly managed to blend the two different genres) a bit of both. But Kahaani 2, with paper-thin characters and an unfocused script, is neither.