Thursday, May 30, 2013

Kahaani (live action movie), via Netflix

Kahaani is an Indian thriller. Netflix has it with subtitles.

I tried to avoid spoilers and think I succeeded, but, just in case, I'm warning anyway. This is the kind of movie that's best watched without knowing what's going to happen in the end.

Synopsis:

Vidya Bagchi travels from London to Kolkata in search of her husband, Arnab. He took a temporary job in Kolkata and had been keeping in touch with her, but then he went missing.

Rana, a police officer, tries to help Vidya. Unfortunately, there are dead ends everywhere they turn. The owner of the guest house Arnab stayed at doesn't recognize Arnab's picture or his name. No one near the school Arnab attended when he was younger has any idea who he is. It's like Arnab never existed.

And that may well be the case. As Vidya and Rana do more investigating, they learn about a man named Milan Damji. Everyone seems determined to deny his existence and keep them from finding out more about him. From what they do manage to learn, Milan either looks very much like Arnab, or is Arnab. Whether they are the same person or not, Vidya is determined to find him. She is sure that, once she finds Milan Damji, she will also find her husband.

Review:

I'm working on broadening my film-viewing horizons. I haven't seen very many Indian films, this one was in my Netflix queue, and Netflix guessed that I would like it reasonably well.

As I was watching this, I had the feeling that I had seen other movies like it before. On the plus side, this usually means that coming up with watch-alikes/read-alikes will be pretty easy. On the minus side, there was the chance that I'd figure out the movie's twists too soon and ruin the whole thing for myself. Now that I've seen the whole movie, I can honestly say that I did not guess the big twist.

Up until that big twist, I thought I knew what was going on. Vidya was desperate to find her husband, who she was sure had at least arrived in Kolkata before he went missing. Although she had never been to Kolkata herself, she knew the school her husband went to when he was younger, because he told her about it, and she knew details about the guest house he'd stayed at. Even so, everyone she spoke to who should have been able to recognize him swore they'd never seen him. Was this some kind of elaborate conspiracy? Then, new information indicated that Vidya's husband had possibly been lying about his  identity all along. Vidya refused to believe it, refused to think her husband was a terrorist. Had he perhaps been mistaken for a terrorist and gotten into trouble? Or was Vidya blindly defending a man she had never really known as well as she thought she did?

I was interested enough in the story to want to see how things would turn out, even though all the signs seemed to be pointing towards Vidya's husband being a secret terrorist. Then the plot twist swooped out of nowhere, so sudden and fast that it was hard to get my bearings. Even as the movie began explaining the how and why of everything, I was still trying to adjust. While I'm glad that the movie didn't end in a predictable way, I'm still not sure I like how things turned out. A part of me feels like the writers cheated.

In addition to the main thriller/mystery storyline, there was the barest hint of a possible romance. I don't know that Vidya ever noticed, but Rana had a bit of a crush on her. Now, with Vidya being a very pregnant and happily married woman, this could have been very skeevy. However, I think the movie dealt with this well. There was only one scene that showed Rana's emotions in a really obvious way – he spent a few moments fantasizing about how Vidya looked as she worked on a computer over his shoulder. He never acted on his feelings, though, and showed no evidence of hoping that Vidya might ditch her husband for him.

I'm not sure if Vidya ever noticed how Rana felt, and I'm not entirely sure what she felt for him in return. I do think she liked him, but beyond that, I don't know. It was easy to see how they might develop feelings for each other, though. Rana was super nice, personally helping Vidya when he didn't technically have to. Vidya was a strong person, but not to the point of being stupid about it – she was perfectly happy to accept Rana's help. She was good with computers and really shined when she was around kids. I could imagine Rana falling for her just from seeing her interact with the kids they came across during their investigation.

According to what I read on the Wikipedia page for this movie, quite a bit of what was going on in the background went over my head. I knew there was a festival, but I didn't really know much about it, and I had to Google one particular reference made near the end of the movie. Rana explained a few things to Vidya (I'm not sure if she was born and raised in London, or if her family was from some area that did things differently), such as the fact that everyone in the area has two names, the name they're born with and a pet name, and that red and white saris are worn on auspicious occasions. Even though I didn't necessarily “get” everything, the cultural details I did manage to pick up were interesting.

All in all, this movie was...okay. It's probably the best Indian movie I've seen so far, and I don't regret having watched it. Although I questioned the wisdom of a very pregnant lady going after her husband in a city she was unfamiliar with, I did think Vidya was appealing. Rana seemed like a nice guy, and I enjoyed watching the two try to unravel the mystery of the disappearance of Vidya's husband. I suppose the biggest problem I have with the movie is its ending. I felt blindsided, and not necessarily in a good way.

Sorry for the brief list of watch-alikes. I tried to find similar Indian movies, but, other than Talaash (which is supposedly similar to Kahaani, although the description didn't make me think so), I came up with nothing.

Watch-alikes:
  • The Lady Vanishes (live action movie) - I kept thinking of this movie while I was watching Kahaani. As in Kahaani, the main character looks for a person everyone swears doesn't exist. I've written about it.
  • Flightplan (live action movie) - Jodie Foster stars as a woman whose aviation engineer husband has just died. She and her young daughter are flying back to New York with his coffin. At some point during the long flight, the woman takes a nap and wakes to find her daughter gone. No one she talks to can even remember having seen her daughter on the plane.
  • Bunny Lake Is Missing (live action movie) - This came up several times when I looked for movies involving a missing character who others say doesn't exist. I have no idea if it's any good though. In this movie, a woman has just moved to England with her daughter, Bunny. When she goes to pick her daughter up from her first day at school, no one seems to know where or even who Bunny is.
  • Memento (live action movie) - This gets a little close to being a spoiler, but I'm assuming that if you're reading the watch-alikes list, you've already seen Kahaani. If you'd like something else with an unreliable narrator, you might want to give this a try.

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