At the very end of the year, two different thrillers have hit the screens – Kahaani 2 in Hindi and Antarleen in Bengali. The films are different among themselves in terms of languages, budgets, moods and the philosophy of the respective directors. Whereas one is directed by Sujoy Ghosh who is already famous due to the popular Kahaani, the Bengali one is directed by a debutante Arindam Bhattacharya. These two films offer a space to look at the thriller genre from a new perspective.
Thrillers across regions and languages in Indian cinema seem to be the flavour of the year. Good, bad, very bad and indifferent-enough-not-to-invite-value-judgement thrillers – we have seen them all. Few have been able to leave a mark. At the very end of the year, two different thrillers have been exciting ‘finds.’ They are as different as chalk and cheese which sounds a bit trivial but is not meant to be so.
The films I am referring to are Kahaani 2 in Hindi and Antarleen in Bengali. Kahaani 2 being in Hindi, has a big budget with top stars like Vidya Balan and Arjun Rampal in stellar roles. It is directed by ace filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh who became a sensation overnight with Kahaani some years ago. Antarleen directed by debutant Arindam Bhattacharya has been shot on a comparatively low budget even within the budgetary constraints of Bengali cinema. These two films can be a model lesson on how completely polarised films within the same thriller genre can express themselves in, despite distinct differences that mark the individualities of the two filmmakers and can, in a manner of speaking, ‘redefine’ the genre and offer a space to look at the genre from a new perspective.
Both Kahaani 2 and Antarleen are living examples of the amorphous boundaries of the thriller genre that has multi-layered narratives touching upon issues not necessarily linked to the genre itself but lending themselves to other issues. There are finely nuanced relationships, psychological and emotional underpinnings of the crimes that happen, crimes leading to other crimes and so on. These take the crime solvers viz. two police officers, on a roller-coaster ride through lanes and bylanes of the narrative. The events are filled with red herrings and sub-plots that throw up a microcosm of life itself captured in a miniature through prisms of different colours, shades and hues. Every thriller works primarily to evoke feelings like suspense, fright, mystery, exhilaration, excitement, speed, movement, action and so on. But the difference in emphasis which the respective directors place on each of these feelings differ considerably from one film to the next making each one a statement in itself, spreading both fear and warmth in the audience.
Let us take a closer look at these two gritty, honest and well-scripted films. While Kahaani 2 is an action thriller which uses fright, panic, nail-biting suspense and a razor-sharp treatment filled with action, Antarleen places greater stress on lyricism as a strategy to make its point, narrating the story from the point of view of a veteran police officer on the one hand and an old lady who appears to be recuperating from a serious illness for which the family has brought her for a change on the other. For the first time, a Bengali film has been shot entirely at Kasauli, a less-explored hill town in Indian cinema and this imbues the film with freshness and a dreamy mood. While it invests the film with a soft and subdued texture and backdrop for the harsh back-story, it also highlights the contradictions between the beauty of Nature and the ugliness of human mind.
Kahaani 2, in contrast shifts the story through flashbacks and flash forwards through Kalimpong, Chandannagar, a suburban town near Kolkata and Kolkata itself, setting the pace for rapid cutting and swiping from one place to another without losing grip over the electrically charged script. The film is rooted in chase-and-run narrative where the protagonist is forever trying to escape the clutches of being a fugitive of law. Antarleen takes its own time, very slowly, subtly and without much action with each killing taking all by surprise in an unusual treatment of the subject of revenge. Both stories have powerful sub-plots and interestingly, have a girl in common as a character who triggers the dramatic elements in the story yet does not occupy the major cinematic space filled with other characters. The two police officers who are in charge of detection are fleshed out within their own independent space both with a back story and with their professional responsibilities.
The police officer in Antarleen, portrayed beautifully by Kharaj Mukherjee, lands at Kasauli pretending to be on holiday to relive the nostalgia of coming here with his wife long back. The wife had actually passed away not very long ago. He is a talented singer of Tagore songs and actually belts one out himself, sounding authentically out of practice which brings out Kharaj’s wonderful talent at vocal music. The song, ‘Tumi robey neerobey hridoye momo’ (meaning ‘You will remain silently in my heart’) is a poignant unspooling of his grief at an unguarded moment. He reverts to his strict, no-nonsense officer routine once he sheds his disguise when things turn ugly and messy. In Kahaani 2, Arjun Rampal plays one of the handsomest, suave and sophisticated on-screen police officers who knew the protagonist Durga/Vidya but cannot do anything because his peer in Chandannagar, (portrayed once again by Kharaj Mukherjee), keeps an eagle eye on him. This vesting the two police officers with their own personal stories adds warmth to the films without unnecessary exaggeration that is a prerogative for the thriller genre.
Music and songs form yet another qualitative element in Antarleen which has another Tagore song, ‘Amaar hiyar maajhe lukiye chhile dekhte aami paini’ (meaning ‘You were hiding in my heart but I could not see you’) is beautifully placed against the panoramic landscape of Kasauli. Kahaani 2 has a music track that flows like a cool stream to the story and does not dominate the visuals at any point. The soundtrack is brilliant, filled with sounds across the soundscape of suspense, taking the audience on an unending journey of twists and turns that take one by surprise when the audience least expects it.
Kahaani 2 is tinged with hues, both subtle and strong, of blues, greys and whites, striking out relief with the flames of fire in the end. Antarleen captures the colours of Nature with top angle shots of the winding roads when the film opens showing a small family driving away towards Shimla which comes after Kasauli. The colours throw up the lush green enchantment of Nature in all its rich beauty. The camera pans slowly, softly and lyrically across the picturesque hillscape of Kasauli in Antarleen which makes each killing that much more shocking. The flashbacks into the missionary school are sequenced smoothly and effectively thanks to the wonderful editing of Sujoy Dutta Ray. The film is shot mainly outdoors in Kasauli and less within the interiors of the beautiful hotel the characters are residing in.
The acting honours are almost equally distributed among the actors in both films though Vidya Balan takes the cake while the frosting is shared by the unfairly underutilised Tota Roychoudhury as her boyfriend, Arjun Rampal as the police officer and Kharaj Mukherjee as his boss. In Antarleen, Kharaj Mukherjee and Mamata Shankar, perhaps in the best roles of their career in cinema, carry the responsibility of the entire film very creditably on their shoulders. Sampurna Lahiri, thoroughly wasted in mainstream films, comes out brilliantly in this film as the young police officer Bidushi Mukherjee and the credit for this casting goes entirely to the new director.
Kahaani 2 however, rushes towards a hurriedly-put-together climax which somewhat dilutes the intensity of the drama that has gone before and makes it not only melodramatic and coincidental to an excess but also amounts to playing to the gallery that the director restrained himself from doing at any given time during the running time. Looking back, if one has to be judgemental about the two films, this writer must say that Antarleen comes off as the better one between the two.
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