Tag Archives: Sujoy Ghosh

Movie Review: Badla (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s a lot to like in Badla, but I’m not sure how much any of it matters, since the film’s central mystery is so obvious. I’m no mystery buff, but I sussed things out in the first fifteen minutes.

Wealthy London CEO Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu) stands accused of murdering her lover Arjun (Tony Luke) after she wakes up in a hotel room next to his dead body and a pile of cash. She insists that an unknown blackmailer lured them to the hotel, and that the blackmailer knocked her out before killing Arjun.

With Naina stuck in her apartment under house arrest, renowned lawyer Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan) arrives to prepare her for trial. Naina’s main attorney, Jimmy (Manav Kaul) — who’s off tracking down a potential witness — says that Badal is the best in the business, and Badal himself assures Naina that he wants her case to be his final victory before retirement.

Naina agrees to tell Badal the whole truth, but she’s surprised when he brings up the case of a missing young man. Though she obfuscates at first, Badal’s hunch is right — there is a connection between the missing man and her dead boyfriend.

Though the entire present-day portion of the story takes place in Naina’s apartment, we see relevant events of the past through flashbacks. Badal and Naina suggest differing interpretations of what happened, and Pannu and Luke alter their characters depending on the version of the story being told. Bachchan’s performance is more limited because his character only interacts with Naina and only within her apartment. And his character’s approach to his client seems overly adversarial.

Badla is based on the 2016 Spanish thriller The Invisible Guest, and it makes sense that Kahaani director Sujoy Ghosh would be drawn to its story. Pannu’s role was originally written for a man, and the character’s gender was changed at her insistence. That allowed Ghosh to make a second film about a woman from London whose guile and tenacity are underestimated by the men around her, involved in a crime that’s more complicated than it first seems.

Where Badla falls short of Kahaani‘s success is in the film’s the central mystery and the way information is parceled out. Even as Kahaani‘s heroine Vidya — a pregnant woman played by Vidya Balan — finds new details about her husband’s disappearance, the audience can never be completely sure what’s going on. She’s an unconventional lead for this type of movie, so we don’t have enough information or points of reference to figure things out far in advance.

Badla is more conventional, despite its someone novel technique of keeping Naina and Badal in her apartment and reenacting flashbacks of dubious veracity. Arjun’s murder is a locked-room mystery, so the audience knows to look for clues and discrepancies in the story as presented. The film also shows early on the incident that stars the chain of events ending in Arjun’s murder, so we know to be suspicious of the story we’re being told from that point on.

As I said above, I’m not even a mystery aficionado, but I wrote in my notes early into the film what I suspected was the answer to Badla’s riddle. From that point on, it was just a matter of the film finally proving my guess correct. The story never really give me a reason to doubt my assumption.

Badla’s short runtime of 118 minutes meant my vindication came quickly, but it was an unsuspenseful two hours. Thankfully, the performances are pretty entertaining, both by Pannu and Luke as well as Amrita Singh, who plays the missing man’s mother. Also, Amaal Mallik’s songs “Kyun Rabba” and “Tum Na Aaye” are fantastic. Badla isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours, it’s just a little disappointing as a mystery.

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Movie Review: Kahaani 2 (2016)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s unrealistic to expect Kahaani 2 to replicate the success of a movie as special as Kahaani, but the sequel lacks many of the elements that made the original so memorable.

Writer-director Sujoy Ghosh again taps Vidya Balan to play a character named Vidya searching for a lost loved one in West Bengal. Kahaani 2‘s Vidya — Sinha this time, not Bagchi — is mother to a 14-year-old girl, Minnie (Tunisha Sharma), who is paralyzed from the waist down. The pair lives in the town of Chandan Nagar, about an hour away from Kolkata. Vidya returns from work to find her daughter missing, the girl’s phone and wheelchair left behind.

While the original Kahaani‘s Vidya spent the film tracking her missing husband with the help of a smitten police officer, the sequel’s Vidya is sidelined early on. It falls on a different cop, Inder (Arjun Rampal), to discover what’s going on when he stumbles upon an accident scene and recognizes the injured woman. However, he knows the victim by the name of Durga Rani Singh, not Vidya Sinha.

Inder’s only clue is Vidya/Durga’s diary, which chronicles events from eight years ago, when Minnie was six years old (played by cute Naisha Khanna) and the duo lived north in Kalimpong. Most of Balan’s scenes in the film are from these flashbacks. It’s frustrating that her character is inactive for much of the present-day storyline.

Inder takes the lead on the case as he adjusts to a new environment. A “gut feeling” gone wrong got him demoted from Kolkata to normally uneventful Chandan Nagar. Precisely how he earned his demotion isn’t explained, but all signs point to Inder being a decent guy. He’s got a sweet daughter and a wife, Rashmi (Manini Chadha), with whom he shares a playful antagonism. Even though Rashmi knows her husband is keeping something from her, she resists the urge to snoop in Vidya’s diary, waiting until Inder is ready to tell her the truth.

While Inder is a fine character, his problems aren’t are dire as Vidya’s, thus Ghosh’s choice to present the two character arcs in parallel doesn’t work. Vidya and Minnie find themselves in a life-or-death struggle, only for the action to cut to Inder fretting about whether his work on the case will earn him a promotion back to Kolkata. The stakes are so unequal that juxtaposing them makes Inder look more frivolous than he really is.

Balan is compelling in everything that she does, and Kahaani 2 is no different. It falls on her to deliver Ghosh’s message about the enduring trauma of sexual abuse, and she does so powerfully. Both girls who play Minnie do a lovely job and show tremendous promise. Also noteworthy is a sweet turn by Tota Roychoudhury as Arun, Vidya’s mild-mannered suitor in Kalimpong.

There are some beautifully vivid shots of Chandan Nagar at night, but the town doesn’t have a strongly defined identity the way that Kolkata did in the original Kahaani. That’s most obvious difference between the films, and — more than anything else — it is what marks Kahaani 2 as the inferior of the two movies.

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Movie Review: Kahaani (2012)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: I recently watched Kahaani for a second time. I have no idea why I initially rated it 3.5 stars. This is about as good a movie can be.

With each film she makes, Vidya Balan reaffirms her status as India’s best actress (one of the best in the world, in fact). She does it again in Kahaani, a gripping thriller about identity.

Balan plays Vidya Bagchi, a heavily pregnant woman from London who arrives in Kolkata searching for her missing husband. Her husband, Arnab, had been in constant contact with Vidya for the first half of his month-long assignment, but she’s heard nothing from him in two weeks.

When Vidya files a missing persons report at the local police station, the head inspector repeatedly pronounces her name “Bidya,” insisting that “b” and “v” are interchangeable in Kolkata. Adding further confusion, a junior inspector, Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee), explains that everyone in Kolkata has two names: a “pet name” and an official name. Rana is the pet name that everyone uses; his official name is Satyoki.

The guest house and office where Arnab was supposed to have stayed and worked while in Kolkata have no record of his having been there. Vidya gets a lead when the head of human resources at the office says that Arnab’s photo bears an uncanny resemblance to a former employee named Milan Damji, a suspected terrorist who’s been on the run for two years. Is Arnab’s disappearance a case of mistaken identity, or could he and Milan Damji be the same man?

Kahaani is wonderfully atmospheric in the way it emphasizes the impossible task before Vidya. The city is crowded and unfamiliar to Vidya, who staggers in the heat under the weight of her pregnant belly. Kolkata is at its most chaotic during a climactic scene set during Durga Puja, a festival celebrating the Hindu goddess Durga, a renowned demon-slayer who also embodies maternal compassion and patience.

Vidya is aided throughout by Rana, and their rapport is central to the movie’s success. Rana develops a crush on Vidya, feelings which are doomed to amount to nothing. If he succeeds in helping her find Arnab, she’ll leave, reunited with the father of her unborn child. If he fails her, she’ll be heartbroken.

Vidya is perhaps more playful with Rana than she should be. But, as pointed out by Intelligence Bureau Officer Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a pregnant woman is no threat to anyone.

Balan and Chatterjee are both spectacular. Balan makes Vidya tenacious within the physical limitations of her pregnancy. Chatterjee tinges the lighter moments Rana shares with Vidya with a longing for a love that can never be.

One of the villains deserves a special mention: Bob (Saswata Chatterjeeas). He’s a paunchy, balding, middle-aged guy in glasses that you’d take no notice of if you saw him on the street, but it’s a bad omen whenever he shows up on screen in Kahaani. His very ordinariness makes him a chilling presence.

The plot is well-paced, allowing enough time for character development and tense action scenes. The cinematography gives scenes a grainy, yellowish tinge, as though a smoggy cloud obscures Vidya’s search through the bustling city. Kahaani is an accomplished thriller that doesn’t disappoint.

*Some theaters list Kahaani‘s runtime as 2 hrs. 30 min. It’s closer to 2 hours long.

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