You’re a London-based housewife. Your husband took an overseas job but because of the internet tools like email, video messaging, Skype, and inexpensive inter-country phone service, communication is not only possible, but is also convenient as well as inexpensive. All seems well until the communications stop. You can’t raise your husband by phone, or by email, or even by landline. A few days become a few weeks, and not one word is coming forth. So you must travel nearly 5000 miles or nearly 8000 kilometers in search of your missing husband. To a city you don’t know, as well as to a place where you do not know anyone. By the way, you’re in the 7th month of your pregnancy.
When we first see her, Mrs. Vidya Bagchi, she’ll be approaching the exit of the Arrivals terminal in the airport in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
So begins the story of Vidya Bagchi, a pregnant woman searching for her missing husband. This is one of the finest thrillers I’ve seen this year, or any other year. Actually when we meet her for the first time we have already witness a terrorist attack on a Kolkata Metro train. A deadly poisonous gas was released on a crowded train, and a few hundred people died. This event predates the main story of the film by two years.
The film was co-written, directed, and produced by Sujoy Ghosh. He worked with a shoe string budget of 8 Crore Indian Rupees which is the equivalent of $1.6 Million in US dollars. But despite the relatively miniscule budget by our standards, this is not a small or inexpensive looking film. In fact, you’d have no idea that it had been made for so little money.
Vidya Bagchi is played by India’s leading film actress at this time: Vidya Balan. She brings an inner strength, a resolve to the character that is ideal. You can’t take your eyes off her. She ‘s a stranger in a strange land. Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, is a large city with a population above 4 million. Count the outlying districts, metropolitan Kolkata’s population exceeds 14 million. But she’s undeterred by the heat, the noise, the dirt, and by the fact, which is at the heart of the film, that she’s only a pregnant woman.
This emphasis is not my opinion; instead it is a point made repeatedly in the film. No one is worried about a pregnant woman. I mean there are secrets to be hidden or discovered, and there might be conspiracies working against her, but Kolkata is a male dominated society. Men deal with her, often with a twinkle in their eye, as if to say to their fellows, “watch how I handle her”. Of course there are always fellows around. Privacy is hard to come by in a crowded city.
But Vidya Bagchi persists. She shows a picture of herself and her husband on their wedding to the hotel manager. This man did not stay at this hotel. Well then, let me see your records. Are these your records? Nothing is computerized. Madam, computers are at five-star hotels. We are a zero star hotel.
At the National Data Center, the place where Vidya’s husband had taken the job assignment, they had no record of his being employed there. Further digging by the police provided that no person with the husband’s name had either left Britain, or passed through immigration upon arrival at Kolkata.
The hotel where Vidya stayed was the place that her husband had described to her. But this was indeed a no star hotel. Vidya would find that she had no hot water. At the front desk, she complained, Why does your sign say Running Hot Water when you do not have running hot water. But Madam, we do have running hot water. Just call for Bishnu, and he will bring the hot water. Yes, this was literally running hot water because the boy, Bishnu, would heat the water in a large kettle and when heated he would run it up to her room.
Vidya was resourceful and obviously quite determined. She’s befriended by a sub-inspector, aka patrolman, in our terms, at the Kalighat Police Station where she filed a Missing Person Report (MPR). She had gone by taxi straight from the airport directly to the police station. The Policeman’s name was Rana, and he remained her friend throughout the film. But the forces were working against her.
The HR Head at the National Data Center (NDC) had not found Vidya’s husband in the records. But she was sympathetic to Vidya, and tried to help her. As did the Senior police officer (Rana’s boss) at the local police station, after originally pegging her as an annoying woman. Yes Madam, we will find him but it will take quite some time is what he said, but we all could see that he was unconvinced. His spoken assumption to the other police was that the husband had simply decided to run off and never wanted to see this woman again.
Vidya continued to run into dead-ends but she continued to persist. As played by Ms Balan, you side with her, you root for her, and you wonder how she will ever find this man. Soon enough, the IB (Intelligence Bureau) – the Indian version of the our FBI, is involved.
Nothing is what it seems. The amount of lies and falsehoods multiply. Besides that, people with a slight connection are beginning to turn up dead. Vidya is facing never finding her husband, or worse, losing her life..
That’s your story outline. The film was shot guerilla style. This means that it was filmed in the city streets, or in the Metro stations with regular people going about their business and without the authorities sealing off the streets or sidewalks. Crowd scenes were literally crowd scenes made up not of studio extras, but of people who probably were not even aware of the fact that a movie was being shot around them.
Okay, to the basics – it is a thriller and is superbly made. The action on-screen is often wrenching and draining as the construct of the film figuratively puts us in the shoes of this heavily pregnant woman. While we don’t sweat with her, we do feel her anguish, and her disappointment. This is all due to the stunning performance by Vidya Balan.
But the concept and aim of the film contributes to its success as well. You’ll come away thinking that this was a film with a strong role reversal – Vidya was not simply a pregnant woman facing a difficult problem. She was in fact a heroine. Her journey through a world filled with the standard clichés of a male dominated society, that wanted to lower Vidya into the stereotypical role of ‘victim’ was turned inside out, or stood on its head. Another perspective is that this story, this struggle of a woman was something that all women wish for in a non-vocal way. Like a dream. Like a hope.
Of course this is amplified by the fact that film occurs during the time of the Durga Puja or Festival. Durga is a Hindu Goddess who slays demons. She is also symbolic of the strength and courage of women.
From another angle, the film opened in 1100 theaters worldwide including some in the United States. While it did not play here in Sarasota, I was able to buy the DVD via Amazon.
I’m going to rate this film as a top-notch thriller that will appeal to both men and women. My rating is four point five on the one to five scale. Yes, the language is mostly Hindi and Bengali, but there’s also a good deal of English spoken, and the film has excellent subtitles.
Below is the trailer which you will find compelling.