Vidya Balan is back. As Durga Rani Singh, the protagonist of Kahaani 2, which is not a sequel to the first part, but a stand-alone second instalment of a series that director Sujoy Ghosh is interested in fashioning. The first Kahaani had Balan play a heavily pregnant woman in search of a missing husband. It was set in Kolkata, and that was a win. Sated with the too-familiar by-ways of Dilli-Mumbai, Kolkata was refreshing.
So was Balan’s playing of Vidya (pronounced, quite properly, Bidya, in good Bangla) Bagchi who quests and finds: what we got was a mostly-compelling thriller, more why-done-it than whodunit, powered by a fully rounded performance by its leading lady.
Kahaani 2 movie review | Watch | Vidya Balan On Kahaani 2: I Use All Tools To Be Able To Create A Person Out Of My Characters
Kahaani 2 has one of the best first halves I’ve seen in a while. Not one frame is wasted as the set-up is introduced and teased out: a woman with a painful past encounters a young girl with whom she senses a strange bond.
What happens next is a seamless building up of dread and tension as the woman, Durga Rani Singh (Vidya Balan) tries getting close to the unnaturally silent Mini (Naisha Singh), and finds herself drawn into an ugly situation featuring the latter’s unctuous uncle (Jugal Hansraj) and creepy grandmother (Amba Sanyal).
Up until this point, we are spell-bound. There is a clear sense of the trauma Durga, whom we see struggling to sustain a romantic relationship, must have faced when she herself was a child; to be little and defenceless and in the clutches of all-powerful, abusive adults is a horror that is tough to imagine, let alone to live through.
Post-interval, Kahaani 2, which ranges from Kalimpong to Chandan Nagar to Kolkata, becomes a different film, reminding you in bits of the Bollywood Teen, and the Hollywood Kill Bill. There’s an alleged kidnapping and murder, and dapper cop Inderjit Singh (Arjun Rampal) finds himself hot-footing after the elusive-but-familiar Durga, who seems to have changed names and towns. Is she is a sinner or a saint?
Kahaani 2 movie review | Watch | Kahaani 2 Audience Reaction: Vidya Balan Starrer Thriller Gets Mixed Reviews
The pace slackens. The action becomes clunky, and some glaring contrivances crop up, and the meant-to-be-humorous bits between Rampal and his rotund boss become less and less funny.
A stealthy female harridan shows up, brandishing a razor blade. The subtle notes are dispensed with, and things start getting underlined. And then the film starts telegraphing its punches: you know, well before it is a wrap, how it will end. There can be nothing worse for a thriller.
The one who keeps you watching is Balan. She puts behind her over-wrought turn in Hamari Adhuri Kahani and gets back to doing what’s she’s done well in the past — giving us a solid, fleshed-out character with motivations she makes us see, and feel.
After Kahaani, which took us into a fresh space, this one disappoints. If Ghosh does plan on making a third, he’ll have to up his game considerably.
Follow @shubhragupta on Twitter