Female Films Week: Kahaani 2, Not as Good a Story

Huh. Well, I watched it, and I’m glad I did so now I can stop wondering about it. But really, it wasn’t as good as I expected.

Somehow this movie just doesn’t come together. It’s the script really. The direction is fine, the performances are good, but the story just isn’t that interesting. And with the title implying it is a follow up to Kahaani 1, my expectations for the story were sky high. Made it even more disappointing when it didn’t pay off.

Image result for kahaani 2 poster

Maybe because the script doesn’t have quite the interest I was looking for, I was overly focused on the performances. And maybe the actors were overly focused on the performances too? Anyway, everyone feels slightly too much, slightly off. It kept me guessing, kept me thinking I was missing something. But I really wasn’t. There was no pay off to the things that felt odd to me, they were just odd.

It’s a tribute to the performers that they managed that “slightly odd” layer underneath the obvious surface. Vidya and Arjun Rampal are both really good, I would happily have watched their characters do all kinds of things that were far more interesting than what I was seeing. And Jugal Hansraj was good too, but a little more obvious. On the other hand, his character was written to be obvious.

And yet I keep coming back to that story! Well really two things, the story and the narrative. The story is the simple straightforward plot, who is good and who is bad and what they all did. But the narrative is how the story is told. And in both those areas, the film is just lacking. The story is sad, but not really surprising or interesting. Just sad. And the narrative is remarkably straight-forward. It’s a flashback-present day structure, but it doesn’t really take advantage of that. We see the flashback in strict chronological order, and the reveals related to it in matching chronology. It would have been so easy to shake things up a little, keep us guessing in the audience. Heck, the trailer was more exciting and surprising in how it told the story than the film itself!

There was one big twist the film was setting up which was so obvious, and so interesting of a possibility, that I was sure it was going to be true. And then, no! They backed off from an obvious set-up leaving it as just a kind of dull plot point. This is one of those movies where I was trying to guess the ending the whole time, and when it finally came my reaction was more of a “really? There’s nothing else?”

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Vidya Balan is the single mother of a handicapped young girl. She is late for work and rushes out of the house before the nurse arrives. She gets a call from the doctor on the way home that they finally have finished arranging her trip to America for treatment for her daughter. And then she gets home and her daughter is gone. She gets a call telling her that they have her daughter and she has to come get her. She runs outside and is hit by a car. To investigate the accident, Arjun Rampal the new police officer re-assigned from Calcutta to this sleepy little suburb shows up. And immediately recognizes Vidya, although he tries to hide it. Especially after learning she has a daughter and was living under an assumed name. He goes back to her house and searches it and finds her diary. Then goes home to his loving wife and daughter and secretly reads the diary.

In the diary, Vidya tells a story of when she was working as a secretary at a school in a remote town. There was one little girl who attracted her attention because she just seemed a little different. Vidya also has a potential romance with a local man, but is scared about it. The little girl says something to her in school that makes Vidya suspect abuse. She gets into her house by pretending to be a tutor from the school. The little girl lives with her uncle and grandmother and Vidya suspects the uncle. From her diary, it becomes clear that Vidya herself was a victim of abuse as a child and she struggles now with her relationship as an adult, forcing herself to have sex with her boyfriend, to try to be “normal”, but not really enjoying it. Finally she gets the little girl to come close to admitting what is happening and the uncle, Jugal Hansraj, confronts her and more or less admits it. Vidya talks to the grandmother, begs her to protect her granddaughter. And in return the grandmother accuses her of theft and gets her fired from the school. She goes to the police, and the police don’t believe the accusations. Her boyfriend stops coming round. Jugal confronts her and implies that something might happen to the little girl and it would be her fault for making her talk. Vidya, desperate, goes to talk to the little girl and sees her jump off a roof. She is now in the hospital. Her grandmother comes with a policewoman to visit Vidya. At first the grandmother just talks to Vidya, but then she steps back and lets the policewoman try to kill Vidya. Vidya escapes and rushes to the hospital where she catches the grandmother trying to kill the little girl. She kills the grandmother instead and grabs the girl and takes her out.

In the present, Arjun hides the diary from his wife and from his superior after he learns that Vidya is wanted for kidnapping the little girl. He also goes to visit Vidya in the hospital and tells her he is sorry for not being more understanding when they were married. So the audience now knows that Vidya was abused as a child, married Arjun and it didn’t work out because of her issues, fled to the remote town and the job in the school, kidnapped/rescued the little girl, started over again, and now someone has kidnapped the little girl away from her.

The twist I kept waiting for was that the diary was fake. It would be so easy and so obvious for Vidya to have written out this whole story with fake dates in order to “prove” what happened all those years ago. Plus the random coincidence of the police officer investigating her accident being her ex-husband, that is obviously fishy. What made the most sense was that the girl was Vidya and Arjun’s daughter (the ages match), Vidya invented this whole elaborate story to torment and confuse Arjun. Heck, maybe Arjun was the abuser, Vidya saw the signs and left when she got pregnant, then she learned Arjun had a second child that was nearing the dangerous age, came to town and set up this elaborate scheme in order to trick Arjun and get him to a place where she could kill him without it being suspicious.

But, nope! Vidya’s story is completely true and straightforward, no mystery, she correctly identified a victim of abuse and then it was confirmed by the abuser threatening her, she really was the perfect mother she appeared to be, and it really was a total coincidence that her ex-husband ended up investigating her case.

Even if there wasn’t going to be a twist with a fake diary and so on, at least they could have edited the thing to make it a little more interesting. There was no reason for us to learn so early that Arjun was her ex-husband. And no reason for us to learn she was wanted for kidnapping and murder after we had already gotten the flashback scenes and could understand why she would kidnap the little girl. Heck, there was no reason for the flashback scenes to be in chronological order either! Have Arjun flip through the diary out of order, we could start with Vidya fighting a police woman, killing a grandmother, and kidnapping a little girl. And then later get the flashbacks that establish why she was justified. Keep the reveal of the abuse for the last minute in the flashbacks just as things start happening fast in the present.

As it ended up, I found Arjun’s story far more interesting than Vidya’s. There’s two levels to it, the personal and the professional. On the personal side, there is a really interesting addressing-without-addressing discussion of the importance of a sex life in a marriage. His current wife and he have a very active healthy sex life. And they also bicker and have secrets and generally aren’t a perfect match. But sex kind of eases over the rough spots. Which seems honest, not every couple is a perfect match with everything in common. But she can passive aggressively complain about having to move away from Calcutta because he blew up his chances for a promotion, and he can stay late at work without calling her to avoid the complaints, and then they can have hot sex and keep living together. We get a little hint of what his life would have been like with Vidya by seeing how she struggles to be “normal” with her boyfriend later. She was sweet and quiet, but unreachable. She wasn’t “present” in their sex scenes, and she also wasn’t really present in their conversations in general, hiding herself in her diary. Very different from Arjun and his wife who may rub each other the wrong way some times, but they are definitely there, present in the marriage. That was fascinating and I could have easily seen much more about this man whose first marriage just didn’t work and he didn’t understand why but always felt vaguely guilty about it, and his second marriage is the total opposite.

And then there’s the professional! At first it is obvious that Arjun is protecting Vidya. He doesn’t give out her real name, hides the diary, even offers to pay her hospital bill. And then all of a sudden he changes his tune, claims he was just trying to get a promotion by hiding his knowledge to keep the case to himself. And we can believe it, he has a kind of smirking smile and obsequious manner. Plus his wife is nagging him for a promotion. For at least the second half of the film, the audience is torn between believing in him and not. That’s interesting! If this whole thing turned out to somehow be HIS story (like, it was his daughter that Vidya was accused of kidnapping, he was working with her the whole time, he was the one who told her to keep the fake diary), that would be really cool. But, no.

The really lame ending is that Jugal Hansraj is still working with the same police woman assassin, they kidnapped the little girl but (for not super clear reasons) are keeping her alive until Vidya comes to kill her herself. Vidya escapes from the hospital and the police (shooting Arjun along the way), comes to the meeting, gets Jugal and the police woman assassin to fight, Jugal shoots her, Vidya starts fighting him, the little girl shoots Jugal. They are free, but can’t leave without money and passports. Arjun invites them to his parents old house, Vidya enters with memories of her wedding day when she first arrived, confronts Arjun and his boss, shoots the boss and holds him hostage, Arjun runs outside told hold off the other police, Vidya lets the boss go then sets the building on fire with herself and her daughter inside. Arjun asks his boss again about a promotion when it is all over, and is told to wait, maybe later.

And then as Arjun goes outside to greet his wife and daughter, we see Vidya and her daughter arrive in America. And we learn that Arjun talked to Vidya and got the whole story back in the clinic. He got her fake passports in Calcutta and then helped her escape, and helped set up a fake fire while they snuck out of the house.

It should be a moment of everything coming together, but instead it is more a moment of huh? Does that matter? Vidya escaped the hospital, Vidya got rid of Jugal. At this point, all they had to do was stay ahead of the police. But would the police even really care about this “kidnapping” once there were no relatives left to make a stink? Why did Arjun have to do anything?

Beyond that, why the heck did Vidya have to do anything? That is, why was Jugal trying to track them down, why have this elaborate kidnapping and forcing Vidya to kill the girl set-up? Why not just let the two of them go, or just kill them without all this elaboration? Bad guys can be evil, but their evil has to make SENSE!

Oh, and we also don’t get a real clear idea of exactly how evil these people were. Was the little girl really their granddaughter/niece? Or did they pick her up somewhere in order to keep Jugal happy? The way the grandmother talked about her, and was willing to kill her to keep her quiet, that’s what it felt like.

Again, I was waiting for one more twist. Either that the little girl really was Vidya and Arjun’s, that’s why Vidya really traveled to the remote town and had this immediate bond with her. Or that Arjun would track down the original kidnapping case and prove that Vidya was innocent because she was taking away a child who wasn’t with her real custodians to begin with. Imagine if there was a reveal that Vidya left Arjun because she was pregnant and not ready to be a mother. She gave birth and put the baby up for adoption, but then tracked her down 6 years later only to suspect that she was being abused as well. And then Arjun would work with her unquestioningly to help because it is his daughter too. Wouldn’t that have been an interesting twist? But, no!

The problem with this film isn’t exactly the lack of twists, but that it is structured in such a way that surprises and mysteries are required. Every scene is shown in bits and pieces, we never get a major emotional moment from a character, what keeps us watching is the unfolding of the mystery above all else. And at the end of it you are left with a feeling of being cheated, you watched the whole film waiting for a pay off, and it just wasn’t there.

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2 thoughts on “Female Films Week: Kahaani 2, Not as Good a Story

  1. Reading this description is making my head spin. Sounds like sujoy gosh might be losing his touch. I have a similar critique of Typewriter, his Netflix series. It’s trying to be too many things at once and so not quite succeeding at any. A children story, a ghost story, a thriller, a murder mystery, a police procedural, a horror story. So the narrative unfolds in such a bad order that you wonder at some point why you are still watching if you already know everything. Plus the ending is so bad that it rivals a KJo movie ending. In order to set suspense for a possible sequel, it adds a ridiculous ten minutes to an otherwise satisfying ending, just leaving a bad taste in your mouth and ruining the entire experience.. In between he made Badla, but that was essentially a remake.

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    • Sounds like he needs to stop writing his own scripts. Badla was great, and (from what I can tell) he made several canny alterations to the original script, plus just did an amazing job with the actual directing of it. If he could let someone else do the grunt work and just play around with their vision, maybe he would get a better product. Which goes back to the problems I had with this film. There were so many good possibilities, but somehow they never worked out. If Sujoy had gotten someone else to come up with the possibilities while he did the finishing touches, it could have been great.

      And I wish it didn’t make your head spin! In reality it was a shockingly straight forward story. Vidya was sexually abused as a child, married Arjun and it didn’t work out because of her issues, she started a new life working at a school and recognized another abused child, kidnapped her from her family to save her, and then years later the family tracked her down and tried to kill both her and the child. Coincidentally, Arjun is now a police officer assigned to the case and trusts Vidya and helps her and the child escape. The trailer makes it feel mysterious, but really the way the movie is shown it’s all straight forward with no mysteries. Although it is always great to see Jugal in an interesting role!

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