Kahaani 2
3.5 stars out of 5 (between Good & Excellent)
Director : Sujoy Ghosh 
Hindi (English subtitles available) , 2016 
The more one watches cinema, the better one appreciates the crucial value of a strong script. The cinematographer , editor , director et al can only do so much if the script fails to soar. Sujoy Ghosh rides on the strength of his outstanding thriller  'Kahaani' (2012) to team up this time with co-writer Suresh Nair for a different version of the same formula (they have averred that this is not a sequel). They rustle up a good deal of quality suspenseful story-telling for two-thirds of the run-time, but then the fatigue in thinking, starts to show. 
The one unquestionable reason for this movie to exist , is the impressively direct way with which it deals with the issue of child sexual abuse, especially in a country where discussion of sex is still largely taboo and where sexual abuse of children is even more of a suppressed reality. The same month of release two years ago, Kashyap's remarkable 'Ugly' dealt with this subject as a tangential plot angle, but here it is right at the open centre of this thriller. 
Pic commences as Vidya Sinha (Vidya Balan) rushes through her morning chores to set out for work, while cautioning her young daughter to look after herself. That juncture onwards, both mother and daughter are pushed into a succession of harrowing events straight out of a   nightmare. Hospitals, abductions, cops , criminals, the rescue of a traumatized child and even a coma are thrown into the mix as timelines are shuffled and the story runs on parallel tracks covering a police investigation while rewinding Vidya's past.
Inevitable comparisons with the first instalment reveal the second picture's weaknesses. Vidya Balan's character of a young lady in that earlier avatar is memorable in multiple ways - her pregnant belly gave her a poignant vulnerability and she had a sharp mind that gave back as good as it got. That behavioural sparkle in missing in this picture's Vidya though she is  resourceful and determined to the same degree. She is not pregnant but plump nonetheless, dresses frowsily, is poorly kempt and looks tired all the time but none of that would have mattered much had a bit more of brightness and wit been introduced into her demeanour. Balan remains a gifted actress but one wishes she had improvised more in 'Kahaani 2'.
Arjun Rampal, who essays a young police inspector, belongs to the very rare category of sexy-'n'-sculpted models who can also act very well in films.  He delivers a solidly controlled performance here, but is not given more to chew on. Shades of moral complexity and sly treachery would have better suited this film's villain but once his true nature is revealed, Jugal Hansraj's antagonist is reduced to a boring two-dimensional baddie.
The most arresting parts involve the attempts to rescue a little girl from sexual abuse by a relative who lives in the same house.  An elderly lady in the family wonders aloud how this can possibly happen - an inherently stupid question which betrays a poor understanding of the range of human nature. A police inspector concludes it is a false case after he questions the six year old girl who denies any such abuse! 'Kahaani 2' plainly shows this moronic circus to demostrate how incompetently and blindly these incidents are often handled in real life.
Did I miss the movie's absence of songs ? No. This has little to with the movie's excellent  narrative flow. The main reason is that I have left behind in the cradle of childhood the rattle toys that many grown-ups amongst the audience and producers still insist on being musically shaken in their face for every Indian movie. 
Undoubtedly this suspenseful film at a taut 127 minutes wraps up before any sense of ennui, but the slick editing sometimes gets too keen in the splicing. In a sequence where the inspector converses with his wife by cellphone when he is searching Vidya's house, the editing frequently cuts between the search (which does have an element of suspense and which we should be seeing more of) and the wife on the phone (with ordinary facial expressions, she speaks mundane words which are of virtually no interest). It would have been more sensible and less obtrusive to retain the visual focus on the inspector's search after only a few initial flicks towards the other end of the line. 
It looks like there's going to be a 'Kahaani 3'. Ghosh thus ably draws upon his MBA background to employ some principles of 'vertical integration' where one venture is used to create more and directly connected business opportunities for another one. I would not begrudge this type of further enrichment of his bank account as long as he able to rediscover and infuse the same superb story-telling into the potential third version as he did in the first 'Kahaani'.
First published in 'Indian Weekender' in December 2016 
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