Today marks 10 years since Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani hit the cinemas. Starring Vidya Balan in the lead, Kahaani followed the story of a pregnant Vidya Bagchi, who reaches the city of Kolkata during Durga Pujo, in search of her missing husband.
Here’s the thing: Kolkata has successfully captured the imagination of many filmmakers throughout the years. Be it Mani Ratnam’s Yuva, Anurag Basu’s Barfi, Pradeep Sarkar’s Parineeta, or Rajkumar Gupta’s No One Killed Jessica, among others. However, with each film, Kolkata changes its colours and moods, depending on the vision of the director and the director of photography. Often, Kolkata is reduced to its most monumental landmarks, like the Howrah Bridge, the Victoria Memorial, the yellow cabs, the tram lines Kolkata Metro, and of course, roshogullas.
The city of Kolkata is no less than a parallel lead in Vidya Balan’s Kahaani. Director Sujoy Ghosh takes the viewer on a journey into discovering a ‘new’ side of Kolkata, one which had been absent from the popular narrative about the city. Kahaani’s Kolkata is not a collection of stereotypes that helps to establish its identity, but much more beyond that. In Kahaani, Kolkata is a living, breathing entity, which becomes so entangled with the narrative of the story, that it would be impossible to imagine the plot unfolding in any other city of the country.
The story of Kahaani (see what I did there) takes place during Durga Pujo, and we see the motifs related to the festival throughout. Be it a visual of Kumartuli where idols of goddess Durga find their inception, or in the crowd of vermillion smeared women wearing red bordered sarees known as garad, or the pandals made of bamboo structures, dhunuchi naach, or the half-immersed face of Goddess Durga on Dashami.
Ghosh treats cine-goers from other parts of the country with a more nuanced understanding of people in Kolkata. Here people have two names, ‘bhalo naam’ (official name) and ‘daak naam’ (pet name). For instance, Inspector Vidya is surprised to learn that Inspector Rana’s real name is actually Satyoki. The aura of Kolkata is also present in the way her name ‘Vidya’ becomes ‘Bidya’ on people’s tongues. And a little Bengali boy ‘Bishnu’ becomes ‘Vishnu’ for her. This duality is also evident in the dual natures of Kolkata: the warm and friendly juxtaposed with the darker side where crime finds refuge. Likewise, Vidya Bagchi’s perception as a helpless pregnant woman, transforms when she outwits everyone in the climax of the film.
Kolkata is not merely a setting in Kahanai. It has a personality of its own, with a fine balance of old-world charm and contemporary edginess lurking in the dimly lit corridors and lanes, where a certain Bob Biswas, LIC agent by day and hitman by night, find his existence.
Talking about the world of Kolkata in Kahaani, Sujoy told Etimes in an earlier interview “Every individual in this city has two names the good name and the pet name. Kolkata, likewise, has two sides. That’s what I tried to establish even while using cliches and then juxtaposing them with grim realities. For me, Kolkata wasn’t supposed to be an object. Kolkata is a person and had an emotional index.”
It is this unique treatment of Kolkata, that makes Vidya Balan’s Kahaani one of its kind. So much so, that even after a decade since its release, a lot remains to be discovered, discussed, and analysed about the story, the characters, the performances and the city itself.