- Gaurav Patki
- 25 January 2019
When the 'telling' overrules the 'story'
Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Kahaani'
(Directed by: Sujoy Gosh Written by: Sujoy Ghosh, Advaita Kala, Suresh Nair, Ritesh Shah, Sutapa Sikdar, Nikhil Vyas)
Kahaani is one of the better written, and executed, mystery-thrillers in Hindi cinema. The genre of mystery and suspence thrillers appeals a great deal to the viewers, but it's equally difficult for the filmmakers to pull off. Since Kahaani, Sujoy Ghosh has been dedicatedly invested in this genre as a director, as well as a producer, trying to delve deeper and explore its nuances. Well, one can hardly wait for his future offerings. Let's take a deeper look at his starting point, and try to read into the script of his most acclaimed work till date.
'Kahaani' of Kahaani
Let’s begin from the beginning. So, this time we're going to see how Sujoy Ghosh has STRUCTURED THE NARRATIVE of Kahani. Setting up an Underdog Protagonist Vidya Bagchi (Balan), a pregnant lady, comes to Kolkata from England in search of her missing husband, but she finds no trace of his visit to Kolkata. Do we need a better logline than this? The protagonist is physically as well as emotionally vulnerable. She is on the journey of finding her husband, something which is universally relatable, and she has come to Kolkata for the first time so there is a fish-out-of-water condition from the beginning. The set up creates the right kind of curiosity.
Sometimes, in order to grab the viewer's eye, a screenwriter would try to begin the story with a higher plot point but later it becomes difficult to sustain the tension that is created at the beginning of the narrative. Here, with a strong ('weak' is strong here) protagonist and a promising hook line, the story starts at an unsuspecting. It takes its sweet time to set up the hero and her world. Then, just before we begin to wonder where the story is leading, Vidya meets Agnes and comes to know about Milan Damji, a look-alike of Arnab, her husband.
The Unknown Antagonist
Every story needs an antagonist, however small, big, stereotypical, three dimensional, internal or external; but it needs one. Without the antagonizing force, a story might not find a way to proceed. Otherwise, who will our hero fight against to win (or to lose)? In suspense-thrillers, the hero (and many times even the audience) doesn’t know who the villain is. Otherwise, the suspense will be out and it can easily become a hero vs. villain story. Chinatown is a classic example where Gittes (Nicholson) begins his search from a smaller case that takes him into darker secrets. The agents of the villain play a key role in such movies where the villain himself can’t appear on the screen or reveal his/her real identity.
In Kahaani, there is a force of these agents from Bob Vishwas (Saswata Chatterjee) to Tyagi to Shridhar to Milan Damji (Indraneil Sengupta). The writers also have played smartly while creating these agents, especially Bob Vishwas. From his appearance, he can be anybody but a serial killer, and that makes him rooted, edgier & deadlier than usual serial killers. Milam Damji for me, he is the high point of the film. He's a strong mysterious Villain, unparalled in Hindi cinema (barring Himmant Mehndi, from the film Dus - 2005, the Indian version of Keyser Soze). With every step, the mystery about Milan's characters gets thickened and so does our quest to find him. This type of character can be tempting for a writer to write but it’s very difficult to make it intriguing and still difficult to make the final reveal convincing and worth the wait. In Kahaani, the writers have managed it well to a great extent.
3 Steps Forward 2 Steps Back
This is how the story graph of suspense-thriller works. The hero is walking towards the final answer with all her might (in this case it's initially about Arnab Bagchi & later about Milan Damji) but it's a mountainous task. Otherwise, we don't have a 2 hour long story. If our hero is a police officer or s/he belongs to a law-force his/her seniors & family play the hindrances in the journey. When the hero is a normal citizen entering into the criminal world then the situation is already difficult enough for him/her. At the same time the Hero also has some internal weakness that stop him (metaphorically or in some cases literally) from finding the final answer. In Chinatown, Gittes has to go beyond his selfish nature to understand the greater threat to the town.
In Kahaani, as the protagonist is unreliable - and we come to know that in the end - it's about the physical vulnerability of Vidya. Right from her entry the makers have made sure that she gains total sympathy from the audience. Because she is an outsider, she has some friends, some foes and some foes-turned-friends. Since the beginning, Inspector Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee) is with Vidya. She needs somebody like him in her journey into an unknown world full of threats. Agnes sympathizes with her and tries to help her. When Bob comes into the picture and kills Agnes, things start getting worse & worse. The viewer understands that the protagonist is getting into deeper trouble and it not going to be easy for her to find the missing husband. Vidya is (knowingly) triggering things that instigate powerful people. As she comes to Kolkata, a chain of events begin that shake the national security agency. With Inspector Khan’s (Nawazuddin Sidiqqui) entry, the conflict reaches the next stage and the search become even more difficult for Vidya. When Bob threatens Vidya, she also can sense the danger in her journey.
The story grows on multiple tracks, one driven by Vidya, another by Khan & third by the main antagonists (Milan & Bhaskaran). When one track meets a deadlock, Vidya finds progression through another one. This journey doesn't go round and around. With higher stakes, it has a well-directed progression that holds the viewer with one immediate question at a time (such as who is Mr. briefcase, Will police’s ex-informer help Vidya, Will Dr. Ganguly tell them about Milan’s accident, etc.) and the ongoing larger question- how will Vidya find Milan!
The Rooted Story & Symbolism
Often, Hindi thriller movies do not seem rooted and seem heavily influenced by Hollywood. Being a Bengali writer-director, Sujoy Ghosh successfully brings the regional flavour & ethos to the story. The characters & situations seem rooted. The mythological references & backdrop of Durga-Puja highlight the Indianness of the story. This aspect becomes a very important factor when the viewer is looking for authenticity and freshness in content.
The 'Unreliable Protagonist' and the Ending
I’ve my reservations about the ending where everything is turned upside down (as expected out of thrillers). Generally, what happens is that the audience is surprised along with the hero in the end. Here, it’s the hero who surprises the audience in the end by having kept some crucial information hidden from them. So, when I watched the film for the first time, I felt cheated. While reading the script I was trying to find how the writers have addressed this issue. Even in her personal space, Vidya never reveals her true identity. In the end, she says she had re-lived her pregnancy period (during the course of the film). Although I don't buy it completely, we can see how the writer is trying to address the question. Whenever we see Arnab's memories, we see it from somebody else’s POV who has seen Milan’s photo and that’s why he/she is imagining Milan in Arnab’s place. Even after stating this, I can’t say that I’m completely happy with its ending but the narrative till this point works so well that I don’t mind the end not being 10 on 10.
In suspense thrillers, how the story is told is more important than the story itself. 'What next' is more important for this genre than any other. The unfolding of the plot gives a great high to the viewer. The refined craft of writing a mystery-thriller is what I loved the most about Kahaani!
So, that’s it for Kahaani. Next, I will take up another film to analyse and discuss it’s significant aspects, from a script point of view. My series will focus on some of the mainstream Hindi films of past ten years that are known for good screenwriting. Let me know your views about my observations, or any queries, in the comment box below or email me.