A spoiler-free assessment of Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh is that despite a couple of major scripting flaws, the movie is never boring, well acted and consistently stays within thriller territory.
Starring Vidya Balan in dowdy deglam mode and Arjun Rampal as the sexiest police officer in the West Bengal cadre, Kahaani 2 gave away a fair bit of its storyline away in its trailer. So it is perfectly alright to say that the 129-minute movie is about a woman accused of murdering her daughter, and contains hints of violence against children and a cat-and-mouse game between the accused and the police officer.
Kahaani 2 shares with its predecessor half a title, the Bengal location, an enterprising and strong-willed heroine, and the belief that for all their hard work and commitment, the local police force is not very bright when it comes to solving clues and nabbing criminals who are hiding in plain sight. Balan is once again named Vidya, but this time she has another name, Durga Rani Singh, and a past that is revealed through one of the oldest scripting devices around: a diary.
Kahaani lulled us into submission by presenting flashbacks that ultimately turned out to be fake, leaving us in no position to guess the climactic twist. Kahaani 2 has far fewer gimmicks and lower ambitions. It’s a simple and snappily narrated story, smoothly steered by Namrata Rao’s editing and powered by Balan’s winning central performance with efficient backing from Rampal.
Kahaani 2 is set in a coldly monochrome world leached of colour, joy and security (the cinematography is by Tapan Basu). Vidya lives in Chandannagar on the outskirts of Kolkata with her wheelchair-bound daughter Mini. Vidya’s life turns upside down when Mini goes missing, but even as she rushes towards the source of the mystery, she is incapacitated by an accident.
As Vidya lies in a coma, Inderjit Singh (Rampal) slinks into the frame. Recently transferred to Chandannagar and smarting after being denied a promotion, Inderjit investigates the case, but in the interests of stretching the plot to its denouement, he doesn’t ask the questions that need to be asked.
Inderjit’s reluctance to get to the heart of the matter is unsatisfactorily explained, as is the ease with which Vidya transforms herself into Durga, but Ghosh leaves little time to stand and stare. He expertly races from one scene to the next and smoothly moves between past and present. In his rush to create an effective reason for Vidya’s actions, Ghosh sidesteps a few gaping holes in the screenplay (co-written with Ritesh Shah) and depends on rich atmospherics and technical smarts to buy credibility and the audience’s patience.
The premise succeeds largely because of Balan, who turns in one of her strongest performances in recent years. Hugely believable as both Vidya and Durga, the actress plays doughty and determined as only she can. There isn’t a false note in her portrayal of a strongly maternal woman who makes questionable choices to reach her goals. There are also neat turns from Jugal Hansraj, Amba Sanyal and Kharaj Mukherjee and a winning portrayal of corrupted innocence from the young Mini, played by Naisha Khanna. The movie lacks Kahaani’s balance of thrills and humour, but it has the same spirit of righteous anger and faith in a female actor’s ability to take charge of a situation. Ghosh shopped the script to other actors before going back to Balan, and the movie is the better for it.