I watched the film Kahaani some days back and was left with a feeling of genuine satisfaction! How gratifying to watch a Hindi movie, one that is billed as a thriller, and end up feeling not-cheated but elated - hey someone got the genre right! And how!
Allow me to elucidate.
What I liked about Kahaani best was that it is a very Indian thriller - its storytelling, direction and casting is so bound in the hide of Des that I cheered for the fact that it doesn't aim to transplant a Western/Hollywood story onto our soil. Instead, it uses the tropes of the crime/thriller genre to explore contemporary India, creating a movie that is deliciously noirish.
As a writer, I often get asked why no police procedurals are written in India. Well, let's be realistic. In a country where a large number of crimes go unsolved, would a police procedural - a subgenre of crime fiction where a cop investigates crime and nails it - work? Would it be convincing enough?
Things get complicated further because India is a nation with very few definitives - most things float in a grey area, black and white blurring constantly as the reality of a billion people of a caste-ridden, unequal society chafes against a dysfunctional democracy.
Which is why the genre of crime fiction that would work best in India, to my mind, is noir, which according to Merriam-Webster is "crime fiction featuring hard boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings". Perfecto Mundo!
A perfect fit with our world, wouldn't you agree? Which is why noir does so well in Italian crime fiction as well - besides Sonia Gandhi, we have other things in common with that boot-shaped country, oh yeah! A similar lack of trust in Government or higher authority, a passion for family and mater, a pride in evading law, a knack for jugaad.
In fact, Encyclopaedia Britannica describes Italy as "less a single nation than a collection of culturally related points in an uncommonly pleasing setting". Hmmm... reminds you of some other nation?
India has been described as an unnatural nation, a country with so many differences and "axes of conflict", as historian Ramchandra Guha says, of which four are pre-eminent - caste, language, religion, class - that a question has confounded historians - "namely, why is there an India at all?" (For an answer to this question, I'd suggest you lose yourself in the myriad pleasures of Guha's fascinating work, India After Gandhi.)
In my upcoming thriller, The Taj Conspiracy, which releases April 2012, I have used the tropes of crime fiction to tell a mystery story set in our good ole heartland.
This is how the back cover reads:
TO UNCOVER A CONSPIRATOR…
Mughal scholar Mehrunisa Khosa stumbles on a conspiracy to destroy the Taj Mahal when she discovers the murder of the Taj supervisor, and the Quranic calligraphy on the tomb of Queen Mumtaz altered to suggest a Hindu origin of the Taj Mahal.… That urban legend had always existed. Now, though, someone was conspiring to make it come true.
SHE’LL HAVE TO ENTER THE MAZE…
In the case of the famed marble monument, all was not on the surface. A vast labyrinth ran underneath — closed to visitors — where Mehrunisa was trapped once. In a series of suspenseful twists and turns, the action traverses from the serene splendour of Taj Mahal to the virulent warrens of Taj Ganj, from intrigue-laden corridors of Delhi to snowy Himalayan hideouts….
OF A TWISTED MIND…
As a right-wing Hindu party ratchets up its communal agenda and Islamic militants plot a terror attack, in the dark corners of his devious mind a behrupiya, a shape-shifter, is conniving to divide the nation in two. To save the Taj Mahal, Mehrunisa must overcome a prejudiced police and battle her inner demons as she sifts the multiple strands that lead to the conspirator.
My protagonist, Mehrunisa Khosa, is an unconventional female heroine: a Mughal scholar and a Renaissance expert, she brings two diverse skills to decipher a complex puzzle. My noir, you could say, is inspired by Italian Pater and Bharat Ma!
People have commented that it sounds Da-Vincish, and, yes!, it uses a conspiracy plot, but the novel is deliciously noirish, something that can be pulled off in a place like India where there are no neat certainties and nothing is a given.
But to return to Kahaani, Vidya Balan as Bidya Bagchi is khub bhalo, delivering another bravura performance (a second National award in the offing?). Read this interview for an insight into this intelligent actress and her journey thus far. She is ably supported by a cast of compelling characters, drawn mostly from Bengali cinema. Sujoy Ghosh is a Calcutta boy and the city is another character in his evocative storytelling.
In some instances the film reminded me of Manorama Six Feet Under, another Desi noir with slick storytelling. Heck, how often do you get an assassin who rides a hand-pulled rickshaw?
Without revealing too much about Kahaani, suffice to say that this interview with the director gives an insight into his mind and how he conceived the film.