Suspenseful mystery set in the streets of Calcutta
If you like a good mystery, I’ve got the perfect film for you. Get ready to pound the pavement, searching for the truth in this suspenseful drama.
A pregnant woman (Vidya) arrives in Calcutta from London, looking for her missing husband (Arnab Bagchi). Arnab was a software engineer who traveled to India on assignment for a company called the National Data Center, or NDC. Vidya is a stranger in Calcutta with no family or support, and when she goes to the police for assistance, they give her the runaround.
Vidya checks herself into a shabby motel and is able to persuade a sympathetic cop (Rana) to help her, soon sensing a cover-up. She and Rana hit the streets on their own, assembling clues and risking their lives to discover what happened to Vidya’s husband.
I love this movie. Granted, I love a lot of Bollywood movies, but this film is the one in recent years that I find myself recommending time and again to people who aren’t familiar with Bollywood. It demonstrates that Indian films are more than song-and-dance vehicles; they’re world-class cinema, which includes all genres of storytelling. “Kahaani” (which, incidentally, means “story”) is a taut, suspenseful mystery that holds its own against the best that Hollywood has to offer. Frankly, I’m surprised the film hasn’t been remade in Hollywood yet.
The central role of Vidya is played by actress Vidya Balan, who carries the film on her shoulders. The award-winning actress has built her career on films with strong female protagonists like the one in “Kahaani.” Along the way, Vidya has redefined the perception of the “Bollywood heroine” by demonstrating that movies with female leads can be commercially successful. She’s debunked the commonly held belief— in both Bollywood and Hollywood—that in order to draw audiences, a movie must have a marquee male star.
Vidya’s breakthrough role was in 2005’s “Parineeta” which put her on the map as an actress with real chops, garnering multiple award nominations for her very first film. In the years that followed, she didn’t head down the traditional path for many starlets—accepting roles as arm candy in hero-centric movies. She also didn’t step into the trap of believing that actresses need to be a size zero. Instead, Vidya embraced her natural beauty, spoke openly about body image, and set about focusing on her craft.
And it worked. Beginning in 2009, Vidya landed back-to-back films like “The Dirty Picture,” “Paa,” and “Ishqiya” that scored her acting awards year after year. Moreover, these movies were box office hits. A role model and feminist, Vidya now holds the distinction of being one of the few actresses in the world who can “open” a film and spark a sequel, as she did with 2016’s “Kahaani 2.”
Cast: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Writers: Sujoy Ghosh, Advaita Kala, Suresh Nair, Nikhil Vyas, Ritesh Shah, Sutapa Sikdar
Music Director: Vishal-Shekhar
Read more about my favorite Bollywood films in Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films by Sri Rao (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).
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