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Film review: ‘Kahaani 2’ is an almost-convincing yarn of crime and punishment

Vidya Balan shines in the lead role of a woman accused of murder, while Arjun Rampal provides eye-candy and solid back-up.

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.

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‘Kahaani 2’.

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.

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In a first, some of the finest Indian theatre can now be seen on your screen

A new cinematic production brings to life thought-provoking plays as digital video.

Though we are a country besotted with cinema, theatre remains an original source of provocative stories, great actors, and the many deeply rooted traditions of the dramatic arts across India. CinePlay is a new, ambitious experiment to bring the two forms together.

These plays, ‘filmed’ as digital video, span classic drama genre as well as more experimental dark comedy and are available on Hotstar premium, as part of Hotstar’s Originals bouquet. “We love breaking norms. And CinePlay is an example of us serving our consumer’s multi-dimensional personality and trusting them to enjoy better stories, those that not only entertain but also tease the mind”, says Ajit Mohan, CEO, Hotstar.

The first collection of CinePlays feature stories from leading playwrights, like Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Badal Sircar amongst others and directed by film directors like Santosh Sivan and Nagesh Kukunoor. They also star some of the most prolific names of the film and theatre world like Nandita Das, Shreyas Talpade, Saurabh Shukla, Mohan Agashe and Lillete Dubey.

The idea was conceptualised by Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das, the actor and director who had early experience with street theatre. “The conversation began with Subodh and me thinking how can we make theatre accessible to a lot more people” says Nandita Das. The philosophy is that ‘filmed’ theatre is a new form, not a replacement, and has the potential to reach millions instead of thousands of people. Hotstar takes the reach of these plays to theatre lovers across the country and also to newer audiences who may never have had access to quality theatre.

“CinePlay is merging the language of theatre and the language of cinema to create a third unique language” says Subodh. The technique for ‘filming’ plays has evolved after many iterations. Each play is shot over several days in a studio with multiple takes, and many angles just like cinema. Cinematic techniques such as light and sound effects are also used to enhance the drama. Since it combines the intimacy of theatre with the format of cinema, actors and directors have also had to adapt. “It was quite intimidating. Suddenly you have to take something that already exists, put some more creativity into it, some more of your own style, your own vision and not lose the essence” says Ritesh Menon who directed ‘Between the Lines’. Written by Nandita Das, the play is set in contemporary urban India with a lawyer couple as its protagonists. The couple ends up arguing on opposite sides of a criminal trial and the play delves into the tension it brings to their personal and professional lives.

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The actors too adapted their performance from the demands of the theatre to the requirements of a studio. While in the theatre, performers have to project their voice to reach a thousand odd members in the live audience, they now had the flexibility of being more understated. Namit Das, a popular television actor, who acts in the CinePlay ‘Bombay Talkies’ says, “It’s actually a film but yet we keep the characteristics of the play alive. For the camera, I can say, I need to tone down a lot.” Vickram Kapadia’s ‘Bombay Talkies’ takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions as seven personal stories unravel through powerful monologues, touching poignant themes such as child abuse, ridicule from a spouse, sacrifice, disillusionment and regret.

The new format also brought many new opportunities. In the play “Sometimes”, a dark comedy about three stressful days in a young urban professional’s life, the entire stage was designed to resemble a clock. The director Akarsh Khurana, was able to effectively recreate the same effect with light and sound design, and enhance it for on-screen viewers. In another comedy “The Job”, presented earlier in theatre as “The Interview”, viewers get to intimately observe, as the camera zooms in, the sinister expressions of the interviewers of a young man interviewing for a coveted job.

Besides the advantages of cinematic techniques, many of the artists also believe it will add to the longevity of plays and breathe new life into theatre as a medium. Adhir Bhat, the writer of ‘Sometimes’ says, “You make something and do a certain amount of shows and after that it phases out, but with this it can remain there.”

This should be welcome news, even for traditionalists, because unlike mainstream media, theatre speaks in and for alternative voices. Many of the plays in the collection are by Vijay Tendulkar, the man whose ability to speak truth to power and society is something a whole generation of Indians have not had a chance to experience. That alone should be reason enough to cheer for the whole project.

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Hotstar, India’s largest premium streaming platform, stands out with its Originals bouquet bringing completely new formats and stories, such as these plays, to its viewers. Twenty timeless stories from theatre will be available to its subscribers. Five CinePlays, “Between the lines”, “The Job”, “Sometimes”, “Bombay Talkies” and “Typecast”, are already available and a new one will release every week starting March. To watch these on Hotstar Premium, click here.

This article was produced on behalf of Hotstar by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.