Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Pen India Pvt Ltd

Release date: March 9th, 2012
Certificate: U
Running time: 115 minutes

Country of origin: India
Original language: Hindi, Bengali

Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Writers: Ritesh Shah, Sutapa Sikdar, Sujoy Ghosh
Composers: Rabindranath Tagore, Vishal Shekhar

Cast: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Indraneil Sengupta

It’s not often I gets to see Calcutta, in all its splendour being celebrated in a packed central London theatre. But that is exactly the feeling that Sujoy Ghosh’s thriller, Kahaani evokes. It also has two central protagonists- Bidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) and the city of itself.

The film, which marks a significant return to the 1940’s Bengal Cinema and is inspired by Hollywood’s noirs, transforms Calcutta in to a murky city of intrigue, conceit and deceit where death hangs about on the roads of Nonapukur, Kalighat and the subway.

The plot of the film is surprisingly simple yet circuitous. A heavily pregnant Bidya Bagchi comes to Calcutta from London to search for her husband, Arnab Bagchi, but learns no one by that name exists. The company where he was supposed to be working informs her they too had never heard of him, then one of the employees recognise the picture of him as another individual named Milan (Indraneil Sengupta).


The story eventually culminates in a twisted ending, when Bidya’s true intentions are revealed and the loose ends are tied up in a gripping five minute frame and we’re left spellbound by the unexpected multiple layers created by Ghosh.

At the very centre of this plot is the underlying narrative of the woman’s power.

Ghosh uses several tropes throughout the film to show this subversion of power. Satyaki (Parambrata Chatterjee), the young cop who plays the unofficial male lead, true to his name becomes the charioteer to Bidya, driving her around the city; breaking locks and helping her unravel the mystery. Of course no woman’s film set in Bengal can be complete without referencing the goddess Durga, the epitome of female power. Thus the penultimate battle between Bidya and the evil Milan takes place on Dashami (the final day of the Puja celebrations in Bengal) replete with the sounds of dhaak, conch shell blowing and Bidya in her laal paar (red bordered) sari, referencing the Hindu goddess.

The passiveness of the Bengali masculinity ¹ seems to be another theme Ghosh plays with throughout. In a land where men are brought up listening to Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry and music and following the trinity of power – education, wealth and love, this is contrasted with female deities and the two largest state festivals celebrating the power of the woman. The Bengali man’s passive emasculation is portrayed through the ineffectual policemen, the second fiddle playing Satyaki and of course the vanquishing of Milan’s masculinity by Bidya in the final scene.


From the perspective of changing trends in the Indian film industry, Kahaani marks a significant departure in returning ‘Bengali Cinema’ (if we can strictly call it that) from being a regional cinema towards a national cinema. Francesca Orsini in her seminal work on the rise of the Hindi public sphere in late colonial India showed that the idea of the ‘Hindi-nation’ grew up around making Hindi the country’s national language and creating a homogenous register of Indian culture.

Gooptu ² charts the dramatic shift of Bengali Cinema from being a national cinema to regional cinema post the partition of Bengal in India and Bombay being crowned the new established centre of ‘Indian Cinema’. She says:

Herein, regional signifiers acquired an unprecedented pre-eminence, unlike, in an earlier period, when “Bengali” signifiers were balanced in terms of “all-India” markers, whether in respect of Bengali industry’s double versions or its use of Bombay stars to creat an “all India” product. ¹


The projected individuality and difference which has been characteristic of Bengali cinema of the post colonial post partition movement has given way again with this film proclaiming Bengali signifiers in a national and international arena fundamentally marked by the trajectory of globalisation transforming the nature of Bengali social and cultural milieu for a larger audience.

Other than Vidya Balan, the major star cast, Parambrata Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee and Indraneil Sengupta, are all Bengalis including the film’s director, Sujoy Ghosh . However, the primary language of the film is Hindi (of course with a Bengali accent) and is primarily categorised as a Bollywood film; thus paving its way for a national and international release.


  • Gooptu, Sharmista (2011). Bengali cinema: An Other Nation. New York: Routledge [1]
  • Orsini, Francesca (2002). The Hindi Public Sphere, 1920-1940: Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press
  • Sinha, Mrinalini (1995). The Manly Englishman and the Effeminate Bengali. Manchester University Press [2]

Kahaani also has an amazing musical score, and of course the icing on the cake was Amitabh Bachchan’s rendition of Tagore’s classic ‘Ekla Cholo Re’ however it might have been my bias but I felt Ghosh could have used a singer without a Hindi accent.

The film attains a perfect balance creating a unique brand of cinema which is uncharacteristically an embodiment of the Bengali public signifying a Bengali modernity that doesn’t ever come across in ‘Non Bengali’ films. Whilst Bollywood’s (read Hindi) growing international presence has been seen as an achievement at the cost of regional cinema, Ghosh’s film uses the same structure to take us back to the era of the ‘All India Cinema’.

About Rohit K Dasgupta

Rohit K Dasgupta

Rohit K Dasgupta is a PhD Student at University of the Arts London where his current research focuses on Digital Culture and Queer Men in India. He has published articles on Queer Cultures, South Asia, Nationalism and Indian Cinema in various journals and edited anthologies.

He is currently working as an Editorial and Research Assistant with Moti K Gokulsing, Retired Reader and Senior Visiting Research Fellow, University of East London on two publications- A Handbook of Indian Cinema (Contracted by Routledge, Forthcoming 2013) and From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond: A Guide to the Study of Indian Cinema (Trentham, 2012). He has also made two short films on queer, youth and identitarian issues in India- Crimson (2009) and Azure (2010).

You can follow Rohit on Twitter @rhitsvu.