Sunday, March 11, 2012

On Kahaani and the dhokebaaz flashback

I’ve written a few times about the trickiness of book-to-film adaptations, including problems that arise from basic differences in the mediums – the written word vs the visual representation. One example is Ira Levin’s superb thriller A Kiss Before Dying (see this post) where the method of the suspense hinges on the fact that Levin’s medium does not require him to show us his murderer’s face (whereas a conventional narrative film doesn’t have this luxury). Another is Gautam Malkani’s novel Londonstani, which overturns all the reader’s assumptions by making a key revelation about its narrator-protagonist on the very last page (it’s hard to see how this book could be faithfully filmed).

Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani isn’t an adaptation of a book, but watching the film it struck me that one of its major plot-holes derives from a limitation of visual suspense – and that the effect would have been very different if presented in the form of a written story.

(Spoiler Alert – avoid reading on if you haven’t seen the film and are planning to go for it)

In general, I thought Kahaani was a gripping, skilfully constructed movie with many strong points – good pacing, attention to detail, an eye for character. It makes excellent use of Kolkata as a setting (one that has clearly been underutilised by Hindi cinema) and contains good performances, not just by Vidya Balan (whose role is trickier than it might at first appear) but also by Parambrata Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who play two very different sorts of men who become involved with the central character’s quest. The relationship between Balan’s character Vidya Bagchi and her “saarthi”, the bashful policeman Rana (played by Chatterjee), includes some very charming, not-quite-romantic-but-who-knows interplay. And no one who sees the film will ever forget Bob Biswas, a pudgy, unfit hitman who is a tangle of contradictions: a life-insurance agent moonlighting as a killer; a sweet-looking Bengali babu who sometimes resembles a creepy bogeyman from a Hollywood slasher series (looked at up close, his face appears almost to be crumbling; when he isn’t busy making house visits, one imagines he lives alone with his long-dead, stuffed mother in some forgotten cranny of this old city).

There is little to fault in the creation of mood, but as the narrative builds towards an increasingly complicated climax with revelations and counter-revelations, plot-holes emerge – the sorts of things a compliant viewer is presumably expected to gloss over (or perhaps not notice in all the confusion). Midway through, there is an instance of visual cheating in the railway-platform scene that heralds the Intermission (anyone who watched the trailers will have seen it beforehand) – not only is this scene misleading, it’s also inconsistent with Kahaani’s overall tone. (As the wife pointed out, it belongs more in a Dabangg action sequence.) But the biggest glitch - in a movie that makes recurring use of the phrase “system error” - involves dishonest flashbacks.

When Vidya arrives in Kolkata from London in search of her husband Arnab, she goes to the police station and passes around a photo of the two of them together, taken on their wedding day; as she talks and reminisces, short flashbacks show her memory of him. In one, we see the photo being clicked; a later one shows her persuading him to go to Kolkata for his assignment. The flashbacks are presented in such a way – they are bookended by close-ups of Vidya looking contemplative and misty-eyed – that it’s reasonable to see them as genuine recollections. (If these scenes had been framed differently, it may have been possible to think these weren’t her memories but the mental images of the people who are hearing her story.)

Late in the film, we discover that though the broad outline of Vidya’s story was true (at some point in the past, she was married and pregnant, and her husband did leave London for Kolkata, never to return), the photograph she has been passing around is a doctored one – the man in it (let’s call him M) isn’t her husband but another man whom she is now on the trail of (and whom she doesn’t exactly harbour positive feelings for). This disclosure raises an obvious question: when we are shown Vidya’s memories, why is M playing the role of her husband in them? And the obvious answer is: to blindside the viewer at the cost of the film’s internal credibility.

More than 60 years ago Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright got some flak for a flashback scene that turned out to be a complete lie. Defenders of the film argued that the device was a legitimate one in the given context – being a visual representation of a murderer’s version of events – but the scene continued to make some viewers uncomfortable even decades later when narrative experimentation in cinema had become more common; it felt like a forced way of creating a barrier between the viewer and the story.

The lying flashbacks in Kahaani are even more problematic because they aren’t just a visualisation of a lie being told by one person to another – they are expressions of a character’s interiority. The only way they can be justified is by assuming that Vidya Bagchi is delusional (or that she has so thoroughly internalised her made-up story that she can no longer distinguish it from her reality) – but nothing else in the film supports this reading.

One can argue that, given the premise, there wasn't much else that could have been done. Much of the tension in Kahaani comes from the viewer’s ambivalence about Vidya; as seasoned viewers of suspense films, we are constantly aware that her version of events might only be a kahaani, a made-up story. (In discussions before the film released, I heard all sorts of theories, including the one that she is really a terrorist carrying around bombs for a huge attack during Durga Puja week.) But much of the film's emotional effectiveness comes from the way in which it makes us empathise with the character. As the narrative develops, as we get to know her better and appreciate her resourcefulness, persistence and the gentleness of her relationship with Rana (and with Bishnu, the kid who provides “running hot water”), we start rooting for her.

Not showing those flashbacks would have been a barrier to this empathy – it would have had the effect of making her a remote figure, giving us little sense of her inner world and her past. And showing them in such a way that we don’t get to see the husband’s face would have given the game away immediately.

For anyone who has seen the film, I’d be interested in knowing what you think about these scenes. Did you see them as deal-breakers or as minor flaws that you were happy not to dwell on? (I didn’t think they were deal-breakers myself, but they made Kahaani a less-than-convincing thriller for me – I thought its strengths lay elsewhere.) Also: was there any way these scenes could have been done differently without radically affecting the viewer’s connect with Vidya? Inputs welcome.


  1. "This disclosure raises an obvious question: when we are shown Vidya’s memories, why is M playing the role of her husband in them?"

    I too mulled over this question when leaving the theatre, but I quickly rationalised it by thinking that there are two things happening here: Vidya is genuinely emotional and misty-eyed while recounting the past as she is thinking of her real husband, while it is the people she is telling her story to who are visualising "M" as the husband based on the picture she's shown them.

    Not really a deal-breaker for me as I could rationalise it in the abovementioned fashion :)

  2. One way they could have avoided this anomaly was to just have Vidya verbally recounting her memories. I believe she is an expressive enough actress to have painted an evocative picture with her words alone.

  3. "Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani isn’t an adaptation of a book..."

    Interestingly, I read somewhere that the film will be adapted into a book. That'd be interesting!

  4. is the people she is telling her story to who are visualising "M" as the husband based on the picture she's shown them

    Radhika: I addressed this in the post. To my mind, the framing of those scenes doesn't support such a reading - it's done in such a way as to give the viewer the impression that those really are her memories. But this is based on a single viewing - could be I've overlooked something.

  5. Exactly the reason I feel compelled to watch the film one more time. In any case, there were too many distractions this time around: bawling kids, my own annoyingly talkative friends, people standing in my line of vision...

  6. One way they could have avoided this anomaly was to just have Vidya verbally recounting her memories.

    I don't think that would have worked in a suspense film of this sort, where nearly everything is built around the viewer's conflicting feelings about whether or not this woman can be trusted. You could have the finest actress in the world doing a "recounting her memories" scene and the wary viewer will always be thinking, "Well, if she IS a con-woman who has carefully planned this story out, this is exactly how she would be telling it - and this is also the whole point of having such a good actor playing the role." (Of course, I'm not taking into account the responses of the relatively naive viewers who would be inclined to take Vidya Bagchi completely at face value right from the beginning. Can't speak for them.)

    The point is, as viewers, we are trained to believe that pictures don't lie (at least pictures that are explicitly presented as a sane person's memories). Whereas with someone just verbally telling the story, we are at an automatic remove from the character. A similar case can be made for some of the scenes in The Usual Suspects.

  7. Exactly the reason I feel compelled to watch the film one more time.

    I think the filmmakers are "banking" on exactly such a reaction from a large number of intrigued viewers! Unfortunately, my experience is that that too many twist-in-the-tale films don't hold up particularly well on a second viewing, and the plot-holes can become embarrassingly obvious when you have the complete picture. If I watch Kahaani a second time, I'll probably forget about the plot and try to enjoy it for the character development, the use of the setting and the deft little touches.

  8. Hmm...yes, I guess you're right. But the incessantly chattering friend to my right was saying from the word go "I'm sure Vidya is conning them...there is no Arnab Bagchi, just you wait and see." She also jabbed me excitedly (and painfully) when she turned out to be right. So I guess the new-age viewer automatically suspects anything and everything :D

  9. The above was in response to "The point is, as viewers, we are trained to believe that pictures don't lie," of course :)

  10. Exactly Jai I felt they could have better job of not showing the hubby's face in the's cheating the viewers which the Usual Suspects the mother of all Kahani main twist never makes the viewer feel

  11. abagchiinmysoup.blogspot.com2:29 PM, March 11, 2012

    I had similar doubts when leaving the theatre - i really think the only way out would have been to frame the flashbacks such as to imply it to be a construction of her past by the people she is narrating the stories to. Also, one must remember, that the flashback wasnt untrue, those situations DID happen, albeit with a different person - so perhaps framing the past in a way in which the husbands face is cleverly avoided? anyway.

    There was also something else about the film, don't know if you have noticed. the 'running hot water' joke was lifted from Ray's Joy Baba Felunath (when the trio arrive at the benares guest house and a fussy customer is shown asking the manager if they have running hot water, to which the manager gently replies 'running servant paben' [running servant milega]. Another striking similarity to this same film, was the use of a 'patua' or idol maker, as a key character to solving the mystery. Here, pareshbabu is an informer. In Joy Baba Felunath, the man who discovers a key clue, is also an old 'patua' working on a durga idol. Some of the frames showing this are similar too, an example being the close up where we see paresh babu concentrating on drawing the eyes :)


    When intention to cheat the audience usually is done with clever writing ACTUALL amounts to cheating the audiences with fake flashbacks. I had the same problem you have mentioned,also found the idea of fake pregnancy and her marriage picture morphed with the actual criminal to find him was really silly. It was so manipulative, that I felt completely cheated about the emotional journey of Vidya. It's like reaching the top of mount Everest with all your effort and someone tells you dude this was never Mount Everest in first place. Some one send you this path for nothing.

  13. Not a deal breaker for me at all.Incidentally, besides Hitchcock, I loved the use of lying flashbacks in The Beguiled, the under-watched and atypical Eastwood movie.

  14. Maybe they could keep the visual flashbacks out of the movie and keep them as audio flashbacks - where we hear the conversations instead of seeing them or seeing them blurred, maybe long shots. Or maybe show her obsessed and delusional with the idea of finding M and so visualizing him whenever she reminisces? Making it a deliberate attempt to keep the audience enthralled is a forced attempt at fooling us...

    By the end you know that the story is fake, so was the photo doctoring scene needed or the need to show her husband's image in place of scenes of M shown earlier- an attempt to explain every knot in the story to the audience?

    I am not entirely convinced with the plot though; the entire idea of changing her into a revenge taking angry woman and taking on the IB seems rather far-fetched. Surely the top bosses in IB could have seen through her story. If the cops can investigate and understand that Arnab Bagchi never existed (after checking with the airport), would not the IB have understood it either? You could always argue that it is possible that IB goofed up, the cops were not very smart and all but then should plot logic be given weightage in the plot? After all, truth is stranger than fiction many times and so there is never a way to say that a story can or cannot have a specific plot line, I suppose...

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  16. abagchiinmysoup: I did mention the option of avoiding showing the husband's face - think that would have made it way too obvious.

    I saw Joy Baba Felunath a very long time ago, but I would think the "running hot water" joke would be quite old and generic anyway. That bit about the patua is interesting - I think Sujoy Ghosh did mention being influenced by Ray in one of his interviews.

  17. I felt completely cheated about the emotional journey of Vidya

    Artistic Revelations: not sure about this. After all the woman did lose her husband (and a baby when she was heavily pregnant) a couple of years earlier - she wasn't faking her emotions. (Remember that scene on the bus where Rana tells her "you'll make a very good mother" and she turns her face away from him, revealing a sad expression? At that point I thought perhaps she had lost a child during the metro attack two years earlier.)

  18. ...Or maybe show her obsessed and delusional with the idea of finding M and so visualizing him whenever she reminisces?

    E Pradeep: now this might work if it could be done well. Show the guy's face in medium shot with a neutral expression on his face (or even a slight smile) and persuade the viewer that these are just her innocent, yearning remembrances of her loving husband; then give those same shots a more sinister interpretation in the climax.

  19. Interesting viewpoint. While watching the film, I don't think I had a real problem with the manipulation wrt to Vidya's flashback scenes. But I get how it would have worked in the book under Vidya's or even a general narrative but come across contrived in the visuals.

    But real problem for me was how Ghosh, who builds up the mystery nicely, makes the mythological subtext in the film all too literal in the end with showy images and AB's narration. Didn't you think so? I thought it could have been done away with and let it be something you could chew on as a viewer yourself without every connection spelled out.

  20. Gradwolf: completely agree about things being tediously spelled out in the end (and really, if I see another film with an AB voiceover, I'll throw something hard at the screen!). Didn't mention that because this wasn't a review - more like a discussion around a specific aspect of the film.

  21. By the way, Saswata (Shashwato) Chattopadhayay, who played the role of Bob Biswas, is a very powerful and versatile actor of Bengali cinema/TV, especially excelling in comedy. Is the son of Shubhendu Chatterjee, a popular hero of the Uttam Kumar days of Bengali cinema. Perhaps you can remember the father (Shubhendu) from Aranyer Dinratri of Ray.

  22. Isn't there some indication of Vidya Bagchi's possible delusion towards the end of the film, when she tells her mentor that for a while she enjoyed living the story of having a husband and being pregnant?

    But even if this isn't quite enough, the false flashbacks weren't really a dealbreaker. Maybe because of the novelty factor.

  23. well i agree. when the film ended, it didn't left the effect on me as it should have. The scene before the interval was more shocking than the end. Something was wrong. it felt we were betrayed by getting connected with "Bidya" and feeling sorry for her that her husband turned out to be a terrorist. all a lie! :|

  24. I didn't have a problem with the 'fake' flashbacks - the memories she recounts actually happened, only now she is telling them as if Arnab Bagchi/Milan Damji was her husband, and so that's what we see on screen. I don't think she was delusional either, just an trained agent (trained by the IB officer who worked with her actual husband) deeply committed to the 'part' she is playing.

  25. Interesting question, that was. It wasn't a deal breaker for me, for sure. But yeah, something that I can't look over so easily.

    I'm not much into movies and I'm complete zero in the technicalities of movies, but here are my two probable suggestions.

    1. As someone above said, let Vidya narrate those memories. And since long verbal narration won't work on the screen, have the listener picture her memories for himself / herself. The policemen, Rana, HR lady etc have seen the photo with M. as her husband. So, when she starts narrating, let them visualize (on behalf of audience) with this guy in photo.

    But with this strategy, Vidya's pining for her husband in loneliness can't have visual flashbacks.

    2. I'm not too sure of this technique, but it just occurred to me. Why not use digital technology? Instead of showing a single morphed photo, show a set of home made videos of 2 year old marriage, of course with M. in them. That could have won many a Ranas' trust in no time. :)

    After all, she was not a lone woman desperately trying for a revenge. She was backed by an ex-IB officer who himself created M. Also, she isn't too naive a person too. She was software hacker herself. Not just softwares, she can unlock any door with a hair pin. :P So, she playing a bit too smart with morphed home made videos, would only make me think that she's li'l too well prepared.

  26. Shoumitro: thanks for the info. I do remember Shubhendu from Aranyar Dinratri - had no idea Bob Biswas was his son.

    Phalin: well, there was enough reason to feel sorry for her, so I didn't think that was such a problem. Did feel a bit annoyed by the overdone Durga Ma/Shakti power analogies though, given that this was a woman motivated mainly by a personal loss.

  27. Agree totally. Personally speaking the flashbacks diluted the intrigue. it would have added another layer had the ambiguity of Vidya's character remained and was played upon a bit more violently. That way the end wouldn't have seemed so strange and WTF.

    But it's the director's choice to keep her character above question. IMO it could have easily been done by using the songs to show her inner turmoil and feelings of pain. On an aside though, not using the songs made the thriller tighter and more 'thrilling' so to speak.

    But the real issue with the cheating is not only the flashbacks that led to you believe otherwise. Leading your audience elsewhere is an old tactic in suspense narratives. Doyle and Christie's entire repertoires are full of that. The real cheating was the climax. It was dishonest to the film and the audience because it turned the film on its head just to shock and thrill. The entire film was so beautifully structured to tell a story. The end was merely constructed to stun and shock. It became dishonest to the entire spirit of the narrative and that was the main flaw. It is to the director's skill that we still bought it (at least I did) because the same dexterity was present that showed itself in the entire film.

  28. Hello Jai,

    Loved the movie, so had to check out your thoughts on it...

    Yes, 'Bidda Bagchi' was misty-eyed when we refocus on her after those flashbacks you mention. Yet, it did not rankle but for a second (precisely when one is trying to reconcile this with the fact that he wasn't the husband to begin with). But the second passes soon because we can safely take it that it was those around her who visualised these memories...just like double meanings...or the same person with two names...while Vidya gets emotional recalling her actual memories, we are shown what as viewers or listeners we would 'see'.

    I watched it today, and I can recall two such flashbacks which appear as if she is narrating these to those around her, albeit without a voice-over (wouldn't that have been too literal?). She says, "Arey, maine hi to use bheja..." and it seems she is about to continue. It cuts to where we see her packing his bag...once this is over we go back to the previous scene as if she just narrated this to her audience (the police at the Kalighat station) so she could convince them of his existence despite there being no solid proof...the same happens for a flashback with Parambrata (Rana) I think these do not jar.

    What I found needed my suspension of disbelief was that even if the Delhi IB initial investigation was stymied the first time, it is a tad incredulous that they couldn't dig up basic evidence that was shown as available but for a lack of trying. But then, that is perhaps beyond the premise of the movie. And, yes, I loved the movie, oh, I already said that :)

  29. Didn't go through all the comments, so not sure if this was discussed before:

    Why can't it be the story in her head? As she is narrating it, she is imagining M instead of her husband. It is the lie that is picturized - not sure why that doesn't fly as an explanation?


  30. As she is narrating it, she is imagining M instead of her husband. It is the lie that is picturized

    Sruthi: I did touch on this in my post - the bit where I said she might have thoroughly internalised her made-up story. But I also felt that if this were the case - that if she was imagining herself in these sweet scenes with the man who was responsible for her husband's death - it would imply a level of delusion that is not otherwise suggested in the narrative.

    Anon: thanks for the comment. I agree that if all the flashback scenes can reasonably be seen as the imaginings of the people hearing Vidya's story, then there is no cheating involved. But based on my viewing, I didn't feel that was the case.

  31. The real cheating was the climax. It was dishonest to the film and the audience because it turned the film on its head just to shock and thrill.

    Fatema: I've felt this way about quite a few films that involve a significant plot twist - the twist often has the effect of becoming an end in itself and making nonsense of nearly everything that has gone before. Not sure I felt that way about this particular climax, but maybe that's because I was confused and trying to figure out what had happened!

  32. The false flashbacks weren't a deal-breaker for me. I lingered on them for a moment and then rationalised it in the same way as Radhika does. I'm also trying to think of other films in which this has been done, but can't recall a specific one right now.

    I was impressed by the film, but wasn't blown away. A) I figured out pretty early on she wasn't pregnant (the scene on the tram when Rana tells Vidya she would make a good mother and there's a certain fleeting expression on her face; I thought it was guilt at fooling this nice guy)

    B) when she kills Shridhar deliberately but makes it look like a panic reaction. The plot pretty much laid itself bare in front of me around then, though there were nice surprises later, like how she uses Bishnu's memories of his school to make it seem like they were her husband's...

    On second thoughts, it *was* a damn good film. Though, as I was telling R just now, I wish they had done away with the mush and made Vidya's character a sort of female super-spy hired to track down Milan Damji and kill him. That would have been kick-ass.

  33. (As the wife pointed out, it belongs more in a Dabangg action sequence.)

    I can't stop laughing after reading this line (Of course I am shocked too because I had my jaw drop , literally when I watched this scene uneasily for the first time in the promo)

    I feel like Simone de Beauvoir reincarnated when I come across fellow women with such amazingly dry sense of humor . Good one Lady Jabberwock , real good one .

    Great post as usual , Lord Jabberwock (I am adding the "Lord" just so that you don't feel left out :) )

  34. I got the movie at two places--the red sari discussion in the beginning (*you know* that she is going to become Devi Durga at the end) and of course the "accidental shooting". Having seen many movies of this genre, the unreliable narrator/protagonist is a narrative device done to death by now.

    With respect to the "falseness" of her memories, it was not however a dealbreaker for me. As Vidya Bagchi says at the end, she had managed to convince herself that her husband and child were still alive.The false memories she had planted in her head to give her story authenticity ultimately led her to lost grip on reality. I think the dhokebaaz flashback was actually explained at the end.

    I was sad when Bob Biswas died. He was so kickass.

  35. when she kills Shridhar deliberately but makes it look like a panic reaction the plot pretty much laid itself bare in front of me around then

    Ms Bagchi (or would that be Mrs Ahmed): yes, that was something of a giveaway, but there were still other possible explanations - one being that she had lost a child in the metro attack and was out for revenge.

    I wish they had done away with the mush and made Vidya's character a sort of female super-spy hired to track down Milan Damji and kill him.

    oh yes, Charlie's Angel kicks ass at Pujo time. Very pleasing thought.

  36. Prashila: jokes aside, there was a bigger problem with that platform scene - it went completely against the grain of the film as well as the Bob character (a meek sort who does his killings in seclusion or very unobtrusively, and who is shown to be completely out of his depth when attention is drawn to him). It's ridiculous on many levels to have a hyper-dramatic scene like that staged in a public place (even if the platform was shown as not being too crowded at the time).

  37. I was sad when Bob Biswas died. He was so kickass.

    Greatbong: I was sad too, but only in the fleeting way that one is sad when Michael Myers "dies" at the end of a Halloween film, or Freddie and Jason in the Elm Street and Friday the 13th series. One is left with the heartwarming knowledge that they will be resurrected for the next film. I have high hopes that some highbrow Bong director will do a slasher series built around the Bob Biswas character.

  38. That's it - I'm not blogging on this topic. I so, so, so wanted to, but I think you've captured everything that was in my mind. I did feel cheated at the end, but do agree that it was a nice ride, overall.

    The only addition I'd like to make - Kahaani seemed more about what Sujoy Ghosh hid from us, than showed us. So, can we name a few examples where the directors were completely honest in showing everything (almost), from any perspective, but we still had to go back to everything after the ending? Sixth Sense seems like a good example to me, at the outset. Usual Suspects too. In these cases, I'd assume the script and screenplay may be far more difficult since the narrative strides 2 layers - what the audience (largely) sees and what it will perceive, after the end is revealed. Unlike Kahaani, where the audience sees what Sujoy Ghosh wanted it to see and (again) what Sujoy Ghosh wants it to see after the end is revealed.

  39. Jai - I completely agree with you. I think if those scenes were not done (of Vidya thinking of her good days), it would not have made any difference to me at least. The plot to me was very convincing. In fact, flashbacks seemed like a deliberate attempt by the director to infuse melodrama in an otherwise nicely executed thriller. However, what I find disappointing about hindi films is the transition to flashbacks and then back to present is always badly handled. I always wish those flashbacks scenes were edited out in most recent Bollywood films. You remember Sudhir Mishra's Yeh Saali Zindagi. The scenes happening in various parallel plots were badly stitched together. If we compare them to Hollywood, I think certain directors are excellent at handling parallel plots for instance Tarantino. I really can't pinpoint why.

  40. Never struck me till you mentioned. hmm could it have been filmed in a way that Vidya was narrating these incidents and Rana, visualizing the same?

  41. Just realized you had replied to me regarding the emotional journey.

    Yes the woman has lost her husband and her baby. But I had a problem when it was revealed in the film. if I was watching the film with the information in the start or even if it was revealed smartly with clever writing, instead of the fake flashback, during the course of the film , I would have not felt too cheated when the twist dawns, I would have actually applauded . Here it is revealed after you realise she was faking her pregnancy, more like a cover up for the twist. It appeared to me to desperately justify the twist ending, that element of back story was worked out, it suddenly made the whole film look silly and ridiculous to me. I lost all respect and compassion for the character I had because of a forced emotional back story, since now the character cannot be trusted. I genuinely felt for the character when she was kicked on her stomach by M, then you realise she was faking that pain too.

  42. Jai , absolutely . I completely agree with the ridiculousness of staging such a sequence in a public place(I read about the metro having objections with that scene . Of course it was cleared later on .) and then strategically placing it at the end of the first theatrical trailer .
    In fact , if I think of it , the scene seemed to be something that was deliberately shot so that it could be used in the promo to generate all that shock and curiosity value , given how it seems to go against everything else in the movie.

    But that said , the joke still takes the cake . Day 2 and I am still laughing :)

    P.S. I love all the comments here . In the age of r*d** messageboard debates , we still have some sensible people with sensible opinions (and tolerance for other people's opinions) . Something that gives me hope.

  43. I hear you completely! Although I loved the movie for how it held my attention and had me at the edge of my seat in a way no Hindi movie has in a long long time now, I couldnt help but be a little confused when the "real" flashbacks were revealed. While they werent necessarily deal breakers and didnt really alter my overall perception of the movie, for a brief moment after I realised the "truth" I wondered if Vidya Bagchi is actually delusional and if her whole mission was a misguided attempt to right a wrong that happened so long ago that she has lost all sense of reality and illusion. But the ultra-emotional twist at the end undid it all for me. I was totally glued to the film till the very end, but somehow it took a bit of a dip there and left wishing they had ended it better. That said, it was a thorough entertainer and I thought Vidya Balan pulled off her complicated and layered roll very well.

  44. Just received this mail from Nikhil Vyas, the associate screenplay writer of Kahaani - he couldn't post it as a comment because of the word-length, so I'm breaking it up and posting it below...


    It is a strange pleasure to see 'Kahaani' being discussed here. As an avid follower of your blog and an admirer of your writing, I'm thrilled to be able to respond to something I was deeply involved with. So please excuse my (probable) lack of objectivity.

    I could point to 'Fight Club' as another example of a similar disconnect where the written word was transformed into two separate actors performing the role of the man and his alter-ego. And I felt a bit cheated. Because I loved the book.

    In the end, a film is a story being told to an audience. For her to have not shown the husband's face, like you so rightly pointed out, would have opened up the film's mystery immediately.

    We were very sure we couldn't make 'The Killer Inside Me'. The only logic that I could get to support this was, surprisingly, what you hinted at.

    In my research into the intelligence community's work, I came across repeated instances of an unsaid truth - no one who goes undercover is psychologically in control. Agents are chosen based on their chameleon-like personalities, and that implies a rather tenuous grip on their latent sociopathic tendency. Which is why most agents use cover names for false identities in which at least the first name is either the same as their actual name, or very similar sounding. To maintain their grip on who they really are.

    If you see 'Munich' you get to see how the normally staid and balanced Avner also loses it by the end and starts sleeping in the closet. False identities are hard work and take a toll on most agents' minds in some way or the other.

    If you were to read 'Vengeance', on which Spielberg based 'Munich', this is explained even further, since the actual 'mission' took decades and by the end, no one believed in it anymore.

    Which is not to say Vidya is delusional, but in character. She believes in what she wants us to believe. And sees what she wants us to see. And hopefully will know how to switch off the mind when the work is done.

  45. Part 2 of Nikhil Vyas's comment:

    Films are filmmakers telling us stories. The characters and their interactions are just foils for us all, the audience. Hence the need to create 'identifiable characters'. Because most of us imagine ourselves in those shoes as soon as we see/read something. This aspect just came into the spotlight in this story, that is all.

    Unlike novels, a filmmaker cannot expect the audience to fill in the blanks or use their own imagination too much - that would be his/her failing! He or she HAS to tell them exactly what it is. You can't let them think Sherlock Holmes could be played by Robert Downey Jr. It HAS to be Jeremy Brett. Or Benedict Cumberbatch. The only manipulation is is allowed after that is to play with that visual cue. (I'm looking forward to BBC's Sherlock season 3 for that explanation of the Final Problem too!)

    When we set about writing the film, this part was one that was discussed as well. So while I do understand your thoughts on the internal credibility of a film being compromised, as a counter-argument, I believe that the film was a kahaani more for the audience than for the Kolkata policemen. So the story that she tells them is actually her telling US and making US believe the kahaani. A bit like when Edward Norton is taking Richard Gere for a ride, he is actually taking us for one in 'Primal Fear'.

    But here, it is out in the open because of the fact that it is a woman and she is pregnant. So the audience immediately connects with her on a more basic human level than, say Edward Norton in 'Primal Fear' or 'Fight Club'. And so some might feel 'cheated' more since the emotional investment immediately is higher than usual in any other film.

    But to be honest, instead of her real name, she uses her true past as a cover story. He husband WAS missing (in action) and she WAS pregnant so I can only say we were wishing no one felt cheated because it wasn't like she was a Russian agent in the end. She was all that and she lost it, and this was as much about revenge as about finding the man who took it all away from her.

    And that pain of having lost all that the way she did will ALWAYS remain with her. So when she is kicked, you feel the pain not only because it is her - you also feel the pain tinged and then completely coloured by rage against the antagonist. You realize what an animal he is.

    (If I am permitted a joke and a spoiler, it wasn't like she took off a mask and she was Himmesh Reshammia. Or like in 'Orphan' - DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THAT FILM - where you realize the evil 10 year-old child who is killing everyone is actually a very old woman with a strange disease that makes her look young!). Her story isn't a lie - it's not the complete truth.

    In 'Kahaani' this was a risk Sujoy took - to tell it like he did. He believed it was the most organic way of making the audience care, and though I had my reservations, he convinced both me and Suresh that this was the only way to do it cleanly. And my recent interactions with random audience members and friends after the shows have proved his instincts were right.

    All performance art is manipulation, the art of cheating an audience's imagination without hurting them.

    If it cheated your imagination and hurt you, apologies for that. If it did cheat your imagination, but still didn't hurt and you can let it pass to see that the story was still intriguing and interesting, our mission is accomplished I guess :)

  46. Part 3 of Nikhil's comment:

    And about the mythological references - well, Durga was a being of vengeance. The anger of all the devas against the man they made most powerful (Brahma gave Mahishasur the boon that he was someone who could not be killed by man or god). A bit similar to Bajpayee making Damji all-powerful by training him, and then realizing no one can kill him - other than a woman. Again, these were Sujoy's choices in narrative. To spell it out a bit seemed a nice way to round off everything. With so much to explain, it needed a calm ending that was not explanation but subtext.

    I hope I have not said too much. I am not trying to justify anything - just putting my logic behind some of the story choices in front of you. I completely respect people not liking it or being a bit let down by it. And these are my views, not Sujoy Ghosh or Suresh Nair's. But we all are thankful to all you have seen it and good or bad, have reacted to it.

    Our sincere and heartfelt thanks for the honor of sparing your time for the movie. And your thoughts on it.

  47. HI

    How could you miss another instance of "cheating".

    Characters are free to tell lies and spin kahaanis. That is their prerogative. But when Vidya balan's characters lands at Kolkata Airport, the SCREEN reads "Vidya Venkateshwaran Bagchi", her assumed name. The screen is a sacred space. The written word cannot/should not lie. This is not only cheating.This is just not cinema.

  48. Have not seen the film yet. From the discussion can I assume that the film starts like A Mighty Heart (wife in search of hubby) and ends up like A Wednesday (Protagonist not who she led us to believe, a train being "medievel"ed)

  49. Mm. Not delusional, just cooking up the story. If I want to lie about how someone threw some grime-slush-filled holi balloons in the train and that's why I am late for work (not that I would EVER use such an excuse :D ) - I would imagine it in my head. The train chugging near Wadala station, almost slowing down, the shiny pink plastic carpet on the roof of the shanty you could jump onto from the train, the faint smell of singed rubber and the festive missile hurling into the compartment. Lends a lot of credibility to the tale, those small details. :)


  50. I missed the Mahishasur reference - thinking back it seems more like a Bhasmasur reference - someone you created is out to finish you.The ending makes a bit more sense after that reference, but still doesn't work for me- though its not much of a deal breaker either.
    Thanks Nikhil for your detailed post.
    I think there is an idea of a prequel- the story of Milan Damji.

  51. That was lovely, Sruthi. Are you a writer?

  52. Arey that woman is a sick psycho!

    Doesn't anyone remember her from Bhool Bhulaiya?

    She has a habit of making up stuff in her mind. Yes, I am casting aspersions on the kind of characters Vidya Balan has played on silver screen.


  53. Anon: I suspect you will be pleased to read this old post I wrote about the character played by Ms Balan in the film Eklavya.

  54. Jai,

    Your fecund imagination made you salvage some sap out of a crap like Eklavya

    Jokes aside, I was trying to bring to light how some actors have routinely chosen to play unreliable characters. So much so, that it isn't easy to believe them when we see them star in thrillers.

    This is a layman's observation but actors like Edward Norton comes to mind. Think of him in Primal Fear, The Score, Italian Job, Fight Club and even the Illusionist to some extent.

    Was just imagining if Vidya Balan is going the same way.

  55. Agree with what some other readers have suggested that when Vidya was getting misty eyed in the flashback scenes, she was actually thinking about her real husband, but the viewer's manifestation of her husband is M, so as viewer's we saw her with M
    Hence the scenes did not really make me too uncomfortable.
    The other thing which was a giveaway for me personally was the metaphorical references to Rana being Vidya's Saarthi. At that point I realized that she is going to do something in the end and Rana will help her intentionally or unintentionally. The other being the fact that the movie was set against Durga Puja which led me to think that there will definitely be a revenge/vengeance angle to the story, which diluted the end for me

  56. forgot to add in the previous comment ... by far the high point of the movie was Bob Biswas. Looks like Xavier Bardem's (No country for old men) long lost brother.
    If Bob was also given some weird killing mechanism like poisonous rasgullas or something ... it would have been so much fun :)

  57. Ketan - that's an interesting comparison. Bardem was such a superb casting decision. One look and even though I was just watching the film, I thought I was gonna have a heart-attack...

  58. Ketan: well, Bob Biswas was much more of a comic figure than Chigurh (and much less central to the film). I'd be more inclined to compare him with one of my favourite comic hitmen - Tinnu Anand's constantly frustrated ice-pick killer in Pushpak.

  59. Jokes aside, I was trying to bring to light how some actors have routinely chosen to play unreliable characters. So much so, that it isn't easy to believe them when we see them star in thrillers.

    Anon: this observation reminds me of the clever way in which Meet the Parents used Robert De Niro's iconic dangerous-gangster image. Casting him as a man coolly appraising his potential (and very nervous) son-in-law in a comedy was a terrific idea: the film derives so much of its funniness from the viewer's associations with the De Niro persona.

  60. hey,

    I have been a follower/admirer for a long time, commenting for the first time thou...very interesting post..I agree with you completely, the screenplay would have been far more tighter if the flashbacks of 'B'idya's earlier life were shown as metal images from the point of view of the listener (Rana mostly) Also,
    I was wondering if it would have been interesting if Vidya was framed only in close ups and deceiving angels while showcasing her stay in the guest house (basically all shots when she is alone, cleaning fingerprints, lying down and such) the wide shots of her without the belly prosthetic doing the same activity could have been shown along with other montage shots in the all, i enjoyed the film, it was not a deal breaker as such but i was confused and slightly disappointed with the convenient perspectives the makers have used to deliver the twist in the tale....
    -Hemanth M Rao

  61. 1. To me, when Vidya arrives at airport, her name "vidya venkateshan Bagchi" should not have been shown.

    2. In the trailer, there is one scene where white-red saree clad vidya gets sindoor from other ladies during the dussehra.
    My wife pointed out that it is not our custom to put sindoor on a pregnant woman's face but at that point we thought that the director has missed a detail...only after watching the film we knew that was a clue...kudos to the director and team for that.:)

  62. This is what Sujoy Ghosh the director has to say on your question:
    "No, I have never cheated. I kept my conscience very clean on this one. In her lonely moments, Vidya (Bagchi, played by Vidya Balan) is trying to grasp the last snatches of the life she herself destroyed. She was the one who pushed her husband to come to Calcutta. See, you interpret a story according to your experience. If you are 20-21 you don’t know anything about pregnancy — not to say they should! — so you assume things. Also, you see images of her past only when she is narrating her kahaani to someone else. All three times. When she is thinking alone at Monalisa Guest House, you don’t get to see the husband’s face."

    The whole interview is here:

  63. Nuktacheen: fair enough, and those are very lucidly expressed thoughts by Sujoy Ghosh - but let's not pretend that it's the final word on the issue. Both the film's associate screenplay writer (see comments upthread) and the original writer of the story (whom I have had a nice conversation with) seem to feel slightly differently about the flashback scenes.

  64. From the same Telegraph article that Nuktacheen posted:

    "Q: That Nayak thing we never would have known but Joi Baba Felunath is pretty obvious… the running hot water bit. And Charulata maybe? In the way Vidya looks out and moves from window to window?

    A: Yes, yes Charulata that! There are loads. Framing comes from Mahanagar. But then I would call most of them my schooling. Ei shob dekhei toh aamra shikhechhi. The formula I have learnt in maths… that’s what I am going to apply, tai naa? Like I remember an interview of Ray’s where he had said that in Aranyer Dinratri he wanted the audience to be inside the car with the four guys all the time. So the camera never leaves the car. It stuck in my head. The same thing I have done here."

    The "running hot water" gag is something that most Bengalis of a certain age fundamentally recognize as referential of Ray's Joy Baba Felunath. It's been internalized as a trope over the four decades since that movie came out and repeated tv broadcasts, to a point where we can no longer distinguish its existence outside the line of dialogue in the movie. Just like a million other Ray-isms from the Feluda franchise which would otherwise mean generic things.

    Sorry for not translating some of them, but a few that come to mind:
    Mogojastro, Telepathy!, Cousin-and-uncle, Dushtu lok, Ota aamar!, Pishi cholo jai ~ psychology, etc.

  65. Ok, I was watching the film with a very scared/ cranky kid next to me who got totally freaked out looking at Bob Biswas's creepy face and evil deeds and I missed half the dialogues. Which parents bring such young kids to see a film like this?...Anyway, I have a few questions still niggling me...rather my husband...Could someone explain how was Vidya so sure of getting the Red & White from Mr. Rana? True, she spun a yarn about M promising to get her one back when he got home. He gave her a khadi bhandar type of bag but when did she get the blouse stitched? Who draped it for her considering she was struggling with it when Bishnu walked in? And what did Bishnu give her...some sort of a radio? Why? As for me not trusting Vidya entirely, I knew real early when she never signed in the complaints register despite the podgy cop requesting her to do so at least 2-3 times and when she was shaking her leg impatiently when Agnes Dmello was telling her about Milan Damji in the restaurant. If my husband was missing and there was only one person in the whole city willing to give my story some credence, I'd let the wheels in my mind do all the moving and hang on to her every word like it was the Gospel. So that scene was quite a giveaway as was the scene when Rana tells her she'll be a good mother. Also, she seemed way smarter than the in the scene where she goes to Damji's place...she was the one to point out his apt had no letter box and to find the resemblance between the tea glasses in his apt and those at the tea-stall.

  66. I knew the husband in question wasn't alive when Rana questions Mrs. Bagchi as to why she's hell bent on playing with fire, a fire that could consume her and she replies "Arnab ke baad sab kuch mazaak jaise lagne laga hai." What a spoiler!

  67. when did she get the blouse stitched

    I had the same question in mind when she appeared in a sari but then noticed that she wasn't wearing a regular blouse. It looked like a red top being used as a blouse and the sari was amateurishly draped. I thought that was a nice bit of attention to detail in the film.

  68. That's very interesting thought, about fooling audience, and planting something in their heads..

    I thought it would have been more interesting if the system hacker part was how the computer in the police station shows error twice when Vidya is around.. I thought was it because of a jamming device Vidya is hiding under her clothes, which created the bulge.. Or why the camera zooms to her legs oscillating.. Was she activating hacking in Rana's mobile..

    There were many scenes where Rana and Vidya were in separate frames.. I thought they were in different is past, other is present.. Also same feeling was at metro station..and in the old data center office.. Where I thought Bob and Vidya/Rana were in different periods..

    Maybe I was thinking differently, or reading too much into it.. So was not surprised about the end..which was like anti climax.


    Picture this - once or twice every day, Balan speaks on the phone to someone 'back home', presumably her mother or an uncle, relating the clues she's got so far, and getting some tips and advice. The person on the other end is seemingly constantly worried for her safety too, and Vidya occasionally mentions her baby during the conversation.
    In the end, it turns out that she's talking not to an elderly relative, but to the retired IB guy who has sent her on the mission. This kind of a phony conversation was used very effectively in RGV's Kaun. Urmila's character keeps talking to her 'mom' on the landline phone, constantly relating how scared she is to be alone. Late in the movie, when Manoj Bajpai finds the phone lines cut off, he deduces that someone cut them off after she last spoke on the phone. That she might have never really spoken on the phone, does not even occur to him. It's only at the end, when after killing everyone, she's still talking to her 'mom' on the disconnected phone, does the creepiness of that innocent chatting really come across.

  70. Those memories were real. The only reason why those flashbacks had Mr M as her husband is that the filmmakers decided to show the face that viewers were made to think was of her husband's and not her real husband's whose identity was to be revealed only at the end.

  71. The only reason why those flashbacks had Mr M as her husband is that the filmmakers decided to show the face that viewers were made to think was of her husband's and not her real husband's whose identity was to be revealed only at the end.

    Apoorv: I don't want to prolong a discussion that has already more than run its course (with many different points of view being expressed so far), but just by way of summing up: if what you say above is the case, then in my view that's a clear example of cheating - of the filmmakers doing something that isn't consistent with the narrative, purely for their own convenience. Even twist-in-the-tail thrillers are required to have internal consistency, but some of the comments I've read on this thread and elsewhere come very close to suggesting that "anything goes" with this kind of film.

    The director himself has clarified that the flashbacks were meant to be the perspectives of the people to whom the story was being told. I'm not sure that reading is supported by the way those scenes are shot (and one of the film's co-writers, Nikhil Vyas, has a different interpretation - see comments above), but if that was the intention, it was definitely a more valid and honest approach.

  72. Erm, how did Vidya know about the peacock at the lift in my hotel?

    -The Hotel Manager

  73. Jai Sir

    I quite agree with you there and understand how you and many others as viewers must have felt cheated by those flashbacks.
    I on the other hand didn't mind it much, just like I ignored some of the loose ends in the script. I personally loved Kahaani for the makers' audacity to try something which is unconventional in the current commercial Hindi cinema. Moreover, I loved it because of Ms Balan and the way she brought alive the metaphor of Mother Durga through her brilliant performance.
    However, I hope the other scriptwriters take a note of the points that you have brought forward, and in future avoid putting such things which might leave the viewers feeling deceived.

  74. Jai: I guess your interesting observation on visualisation and its use to take the audience for granted makes some sense. However i would still like to gloss over this factor to take a broader look at the movie's attempt to be a cerebral thriller.

    I don't think it was a cerebral thriller so therein ends all pretensions to that effect. I would much rather place it in the 'James Headley Chase' bracket of thrillers, the only difference being in some plot narratives, as you rightly pointed out this kind of a story works more in the visual arena than as a book.

    I believe you are right when you feel slightly cheated by Vidya's character being drawn exactly as per the filmmakers wishes rather than potraying an individualistic characterisation which might have been difficult to carry off. My problem was with the authenticity of the characters as well. I sincerely do not think that the intelligence bureau of our country has suave, street smart masters in the art of espionage as potrayed in the film. This part was a little over the top. e.g the character of captain Bajpayee is shown as a tough as nails former spymaster. Anybody interested in the history of Indian intelligence would tell you that such creatures are mythical toughies existing in imaginary nationalistic fantasy of schoolkids. His dialogue to the IB chief "that i created four best men for you, one became a monster " could have come straight out of a James bond or MI series of films.

    Another thing which was a little puerile was the narration of the Asura and Goddess mythology at the end. I believe the film itself signified that and emphasising the same was a little over the top. Also the equation was filled with contradictions since even the character of Khan is no angel, so by that logic he is not much different from the terrorist. (Whatever his justifications might be). This type of a character might also easily pass over to the other side if you take in "John Le Carre's" theory on espionage.

    Still i believe in spite of these flaws this was a tautly paced thriller with a lot of good points and just a few negatives which i have just spoken about.(This is also subjective) As I said this film reminded me about 'Chase' however with an Indian context, if you can say so.

  75. Good to read the discussions on potential deal breakers.

    More than the flashback scenes, one think that didn't work for me was the revealing of the real "Bidya" and the cartoonish action sequence(dabbang territory as your wife pointed out). The directors choice of changing the tone left me with a bad(mildly bad) after taste to an otherwise excellent film.

    On my way back home, I kept thinking of "the usual suspects" and the "kobayashi moment". Couldn't the filmmakers have chosen a more believable way to depict the slaying of the mahisasur equivalent. Wonder what others think. Would be interesting to know about the reasoning behind this choice by the film makers.

    Talking about showing the mythological parallels, I thought this film got it spot on. Treated the audience with respect and Didn't try to force feed(like Ravan and Rajniti)


  76. Well plotted movie,well told, but as you point out Arjun , it does break rule 5 and rule 8 of classic detective fiction:-

    In literary parlance this is as 'literary forgery' but this is pardonable 'coz even the mighty have resorted to this once in a while

  77. I on the other hand didn't mind it much, just like I ignored some of the loose ends in the script.

    Apoorv: I didn't mind it too much either - like I said in the post, it wasn't a deal-breaker for me in terms of my overall appreciation of the film. Just didn't think it was a great thriller. Still, small steps and all that...

    Erm, how did Vidya know about the peacock at the lift in my hotel?

    Hotel Manager: if you're asking seriously, this is easily explained I would think: for such an elaborate plot, surely they would have had someone scout the place beforehand.

  78. dhokebaaz flashback is just one issue. there are some more. See if you have answers to these -

  79. @Jabberwock Completely unrelated point w.r.t the ongoing discussion...
    Both Sawswata and Parambrata had played the character Topshe (the sidekick/cousin of Feluda) at different times in the Feluda franchisee (directed by Ray's son Sandip Ray)...
    Now that is one more connection to Ray... :)
    Now I'll go and read the comments... !!

  80. For a thriller/Mystery to be satisfying it has to a) confuse us thoroughly and then b) tie the plot up in a way so that when the viewer thinks it through everything falls into place and all the confusions are reasonably explained and the viewer can marvel at the director’s ingenuity and slap his maatha and say….wow!!! so that’s it!! How come I couldn’t think it through!!!!

    Unfortunately, Kahaani is an excellent film that managed to confuse me but when they tied the whole thing up it left me feeling cheated because I could clearly see that the story was bullshit and the director had fooled me with a fantasy. The director created so many confusions that he couldn’t explain them through a credible story that had internal logic.

    For me the use of fake flashbacks is not an issue at all, but couple of things that just refused to go were:

    a) I am hiding a terrorist. I know where he is and I know he has never been to London, yet when a lady comes up claiming him to be her husband, I- the head of Indian intelligence don’t smell a rat…not only that I send the same guy (a supposedly well- trained agent who after commiting a major crime stays on in KOlkata instead of dissapearing into the great wide world or friendly foreign capitals….) to retrieve some important files from her….Even worse, the terrorist himself knows that the woman is lying and the picture photoshopped (since it’s his picture and he has never married this owman nor been to London with her) still says I will return your husband to you

    b) Apart from this Big stupid thing….so many others- I mean what sort if background check did khan do on vidya bagchi? why did bob kill agnes- I mena the IB has pinpointed Damji as the culprit and would presumably have checked out his records at the datacentre, then what the hell could anyone including agnes have gotten from his employee records? How come Bob pushed her the first time even before he got the MMS? Why the hell did Vidya have to kill sridhar? Why was bhaskaran so keen for khan as well as the retired guy to follow up on the case???…….UGGH!!!!

    I call Bullshit!!!! Fool me fairly and leave me with a ending that has me smacking my head in disbelief saying WOW!!! Thats awesome! How come I never saw that…don’t leave me saying bullshit! The director or writer plain cheated me with an unbelievable story…..

    I mean, don’t get me wrong- Its a wonderful movie and created some real tension….BUT BUT BUT….IT COULD HAVE BEEN GREAT!!!! and for a supporter of Hindi movies therein lies the tragedy and frustration with this movie.

  81. In my opinion, the makers were perfectly justified in showing someone else's photo as Vidya's husband. After all, she is searching for him and there should have been some way for the viewers to know this.

    The twist in the climax where he doesn't recognize her came as a pleasant surprise. The final secret thus had a predecessor secrets which only increased the curiosity factor of the viewers. I believe this is where Kahaani scored over the rest.

    A truly memorable movie.

    PS: In the movie, Vidya is called "Bida" and she tries to correct this many times. But one of the IB officers who is killed is named Vijay and his name is pronounced correctly. Don't know why the makers didn't choose to call him "Bijoy" :-) Freudian slip, perhaps?

  82. I do not think they were flashbacks at all. Of all the scenes from the past, only one was Vidya's memory. One where she stands at the window of her room in Monalisa. The hudband's face is not shown in this memory. The others were where she was explaining or narrating to someone else.

  83. Even if it did not have a good denouement, even if there was no homage to Kolkatta, even if there was no subtle romantic crush between Rana and Vidya, even without the plot twists, I would still love the movie for making unforgettable characters - Rana, Inspector Khan and Bob! I have to rack my brains to come up with 'Omkara', that impressed me last with leaving-a-stamp-in-your-mind characters.

  84. Dont want to say anything other than that from nw on i am an ardent follower of your blog. Loved evvvvverything about it !

  85. Rashomon? The mother of all Dhokebaaz flashbacks?

  86. Datar: I'd argue Rashomon is a special case, where part of the point is to demonstrate the many ways in which people can deceive themselves - the lying flashbacks are explicitly part of that point. Also, right from the highly stylised scene where the woodcutter recounts entering the forest and discovering the dead body, the film is shot in such a way as to suggest that everything is happening in a dreamscape - that it isn't a realist setting. That isn't the case in Kahaani.

  87. I wouldn't be so sure of the assumption that a lack of visuals alone would cause a lack of empathy on our part.
    Exhibit 1: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: In the film's expressionistic center-piece Mr. Alfredson employs an almost revolutionary take on the across-the-table-you-complete-me conversation scenario (Heat, The Dark Knight), and it is pretty darn effective. More than straightaway "showing" it.

    Exhibit 2: Shutter Island, the opening moments have memories of "husband and wife" tie thing. Is it effective? I don't know, it comes across as archetypal, more than anything else.
    I wouldn't know about most, but I need something that feels "specific" to earn my empathy. Cultural shorthands just won't do. Ditto for Kahaani. As opposed to earning my empathy, the stock nature of it sort of turned me off.

    And there's an ethical issue at hand. t serves us with visual clues about the identity of the husband, only to replace the face later. The events are true, the memories are not. This narrative decision on Mr. Ghosh’s part thoroughly trivializes the memory of a widow, a widow whose son has been killed in the process. His cheap gimmick undermines the tragedy, an act exacerbated by the ridiculous nature of his cutting, leaves everything replaceable, including the photo of a husband, making it not a memento of the past but an aid to a twist (pretty hardcore I say).

    P.S.: David Bordwell on showing/telling.

  88. I would have preferred an ending where Milan is indeed her husband and she kills him (like in Ishkiyan). I say this because when she asks him if he really can give back her husband, I thought it referred to him turning traitor. I must say Khan and Bob Biswas were quite memorable characters.

  89. This was a major concern of me n my friends while watching Vidya Balan starrer “KAHAANI”. In her flashback VISUALS how can Vidya Balan not only see Indranil( Milind Damji) as her her husband but also can see herself pregnant. It’s an easy n cheap creative liberty taken by d film maker to give d surprise twist in d end. What if tht flashback was not shot in tht way? It must be the major Spoiler. The second concern was if u see any famous movies with a surprising twist in the end like “sixth sense”, “Usual Suspects” or let s take “Shutter Island”, u ll never feel tht u r being cheated by d film maker bt feel amused as u are smartly fooled by the master director. In any movie of this category if u see it agin in a reverse way, u ll find the filmmaker showed u and dint show you at the same time, very tactfully. Thats why u feel spellbound wow in the end. In d case of” Kahaani” if u see it in reverse way u ll find d film full of flaws. The above flashback is just an example. NO MATTER WHAT EVR D FLAWS WERE THR IN D CRAFTING OF KAHAANI, NODUBT, IT WAS A THRILLING EXPERINCE FR AUDIENCE AND THY ENJOYED IT, NO PROBLEN IN THAT. BUT I FEEL PITTY FOR ALL THE INDAIN REVIEWERS OR SO CALLED FILMCRITICS AND FILM LITERATE FOLKS …ALL OF THEM ALWAYS CHOOSE A ‘BHEDD CHAL’…HARDLY ANY BODY HAS D GUTS 2 RAISE A GENUINE FLAW IF D FILM IS POPULAR HIT….NOT A SINGLE CRITIC ANALYSE A FILM IN THT WAY, THY ONLY GO WTH DER FAVORITE STARS OR WTH D HIT N FLOP OF A MOVIE.

  90. Wow, do you usually get 90-100 comments on your blog posts or that in itself is an indicator of the beauty of this movie?

  91. Clearly plenty of people watched and engaged with this movie so that in itself is a success I suppose :-)

    I didn't find the dhokebaaz flashback to be a deal-breaker but do agree with you that it spoils the film as a thriller to some extent and I ended up admiring it more for the manner in which the film was made with attention to little things. My wife and I were also reminded obliquely of the Liam Neeson starrer "Unknown" which had a similar sort of plot except that the premise of the film lent itself to the flashbacks not ending up being dhokebaaz!

    Kahaani obviously didn't have that luxury so maybe one alternate way would have been to do a Hitchcock and let the audience know who Balan really was but not the other characters in the movie. I somehow doubt that would have been appreciated by Indian audiences as much so from a commercial perspective, Ghosh probably made the right choice.

  92. Exactly my thoughts when I exited the theater. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I felt that putting a face to Bidya's husband in the flashback was a cheat on the director's part, as the viewer trusts the camera not to lie, and when we see M/Arnab as one, we do not even consider the possibility that it might be a lie. The flashback tell at at the beginning itself that there was a person called Arnab who resembled M.
    Like you said, showing the flashbacks from the POV of the police officers - specifically Rana, as he shares a nice chemistry with Bidya would have been a better device.
    To my friends, however, this is not a big plothole. they aer quite ok overlooking it and justifying it by saying that Bidya has internalised the story herself. For them, it spoils the overall movies experience.
    Like they say, different strokes for different folks!!

  93. There's one inconsistency, or so I feel. WHY would Bob Biswas be asked to only threaten Vidya and not kill her in the first instance itself? I mean I understand that a metro station isn't the best place to be killing anyone, with public eyes prying on you (But then it isn't the best place to threaten someone in such manner as Bob does either.) But am sure Bob could have been asked to kill Vidya earlier, without the others having to die and Vidya ice-creaming her way through. Or am I just being stupidly cynical? That apart, no denying that Kahaani is a wonderful movie to watch, esp. the cinematography, and Bob Biswas. :-)

  94. Interesting! Enjoyed the movie but I didn't consider the 'false flashback' detail until I read your write up.

  95. A bit off-topic directed @ Mahabharata-buffs : Wasn't Satyaki a Yadava prince and a friend of Krishna/Arjun rather than Arjun's charioteer?

    1. Yes; and also Arjun's disciple in archery. I wondered why she insisted on calling him Arjun's Saarthi, which he never was.

  96. Enjoyed the post, and read every single comment.

    Part 1 of 2:

    I didn't mind the narrative adaptation style "cheating". In fact I think it's either par for the course in movie making, or should be an allowable exploration of deceiving the audience. I guess I agree with Nikhil's take on deceiving without hurting.

    There were some moments of the movie where the touches were totally pedestrian and painful blemishes.
    1) The "combootar hacking" scenes could have been much more sophisticated in imagery and script.
    2) The flinging of the prosthetic belly was cheap, showy and undignified. Could have been better handled if it had Vidya without the belly at Triangular Park, symbolic of her starting to cast off her role-playing. Either the camera only shows her upper body during the first half of the scene, or somehow it turns out to be her poor saree tying skills that is made to blur in the scenes as the baby bump - which is revealed during the skirmish with Damji. This could have avoided the unnecessary flinging of an expensive prop.

    I have mixed feelings about the romance undermined the credibility of the protagonist's situation (both the cover - a search or the underlying avenge of a loss). Still appreciated the little boy portrayal by Parambrata, and the lightness of the weave into the fabric of the story.

    I appreciated some of the feminist imagery, but I think it went over the top, insulting the intelligence of the audience. I think filmmakers should choose their audience and then resolve to limit the extent of their attempts to widen the base by spelling it out. Or there could be a movie website only "spelling it out" version that can be found after the theatre release for the more simplistic folks. Could also be a great marketing device to increase website hits, or DVD sales with the extra spell-out version.

    The snippets that I did enjoy:

    1) Feminist imagery of the woman bent at the feet of a man, at his mercy for her life. And her version of touching his feet is to stab it and then use the same action lethally.

    2) Sridhar does a beautiful dying twitch after Vidya shoots him. Personally I found this piece of acting more convincing and satisfying than some of Vidya's scenes. Especially given the vast reels of unconvincing deaths in Indian cinema. If there was an award for well delivered seconds, or best use of acting opportunity, he'd get it.

  97. Part 2 of 2:

    And lastly, I have many of the questions that Rahul asked (below). The fact that I enjoyed the movie despite these gross gaps leaves me realizing how apathetic I am about my expectations for Indian cinema.

    1) The Bob Biswas creepy push and retrieve scene at the Metro is cinematically powerful. His appearance behind her, and the angle it was shot at sets the terror beautifully. But what the hell was its spot in the storyline ? It's like they did the scene, realized its power, and used it anyway without trying to retrofit it into the plot convincingly. It could have been worked into somehow Bob and her actually seeing each other at the old NDC office during the cat and mouse chase. And the visual power of the scene could have been invoked with a close encounter where they both realize where they recognize each other from. All that without doing a WTF did he push and hold her type brain cramp.

    2) Portraying the IB as so naive as to simply buy this woman's story & meddlesomeness is bizarre, especially given that Bhaskaran has something to hide. Khan tries to justify sustaining her intense interest, and allowing it to carry though because she was their bait, but it is neither convincing nor sensible to the story.

    3) What information could have been so sensitive that the only way to retrieve it was by sending Damji himself to get it back from the woman ? Its only purpose was the setup for the end scene. The info itself, or the lead up could have been better defined.

    Overall, a fun watch, and intriguing enough to spend this much time on. Enjoyed the mixology of thriller and social themes - feminism and spy thriller is not uncommon, but mythology, cultural ideology and pregnancy are good additions. Tarantino tried the pregnancy one in Kill Bill, but it was not effective.

  98. Here's a great link to the holes in the storyline:

    And the kicker for me was that in the end, Milan didn't actually look anything like the Arnab Bagchi she'd been showing a picture of.

  99. Like many others, didn't have much of an issue with the flashback. It could have been done better of course--they could have shot the scenes without revealing the husband's face. As for the railway platform scene, if I had an issue it would be that the scene was unnecessary. I do not, however, find Bob Biswas' actions inconsistent with his character--he may have been trying to toy with his victim taking delight in terrorizing her.

  100. Great post, Jai - I was thinking of it later too. I guess he inserted those (otherwise annoyingly repetitive) scenes where the flashbacks are shown with edit-replace for Arnab with Arup - in order to rectify the earlier memories. I guess twist in the tale endings have this problem in that there seems to be a greater manipulation of the audience when the medium is film, as opposed to a short story. This ending had a nod to Usual Suspects with the kid's uniform thingy.

    The platform scene was not just out of character for BB - who would not be likely to change his MO - but also, if Vidya is such a trained agent, why were her reflexes so poor and why did she get so spooked and considering this was her first lead into the powers-that-be, why didn't she follow BB to find out who was hiring him? Gaping plot holes overall but the movie was such a ripping watch that I contented myself with some minor muttering.

    Re the BB character - yes, quite unforgettable and like you, I remmebered Tinnu Anand in Pushpak, esp when BB looks anguished at having killed the wrong guy - but I also felt that the slightly comic element which went so well with Pushpak's zany mood, worked against the suspense in Kahani.

  101. If the makers of this film had made vidya's husband and Milan Damj as twins, do you think this could have worked? Not only would the flashback be okay , it would be another nice twist at the end.

  102. I just saw Kahaani today and as a regular follower of this blog decided to read this post now (didn't want to ruin the suspense.) Well, is it just me or did someone else think for a moment that "Vidya" was already an IB agent and didn't become one after her real husband was killed in the metro attack. The reason I think it's true because I remember the scene in which the IB chief goes to meet her mentor. Didn't he mention her mentor trained 3 people out of which one went rogue? But this might not be true, because if it was, Mr. M would have already recognized her (since he was keeping an eye on her movements and also had her photo which he gave to Bob) and not have said "You will get your husband when you give the papers". Or he might not have recognized her, if they were trained separately. Just a thought.

    Jai, thanks for such a wonderful post.

  103. A friend directed me here. I have the same grudge with the director as Jai. Have given my reasons as to why I consider the flashback scenes as cheating.

    Mainly, because it breaches the third wall again and again. it tries to fool the audience, and not the characters.

    Vidya Bagchi wasnt delusional. Saying this wud be like the case of murdering someone and then pleading not guilty by feigning 'unfit state of mind'. If she was delusional, then why was she imagining the villain as her husband? itni bhi kya internalisation ho gayi?

  104. I watched the movie with huge anticipation of a classic but was completely disillusioned. These "FAKE FLASHBACKS" completely killed the movie for me and I felt cheated. The director took viewers for a ride. The movie could have very well been made without these flashback lies.
    Not on the topic but "Dirty Picture also disappointed me as a viewer. May be Vidya will give us better movies in future which she is capable of.

  105. The film is based on a story by Advaita Kala. Isn' it?