- Ribhu Dasgupta\'s second feature film after Michael (2011)
- Stars Amitabh Bachchan as a grief-stricken grandfather in pursuit of justice
- Wastes a solid platform to reiterate genre limitations
It's not unusual to feel a bit cheated after watching a thriller. If you're still thinking about it - discussing the revelations, sudden twists and the in-retrospect clues, or wondering how on Hitchcock's holy earth you didn't notice the sleight-of-hand narrative winks, or how the plot led you elsewhere while the answer was right in front of you - this is a fair sign of a story well constructed. Or at least, engagingly told. You don't begrudge - but rather, admire - the filmmaker for deceiving you, without disrespecting you, like a cheeky illusionist.
But the cheated feeling after Te3n, another Kolkata-based whodunit helmed by Sujoy Ghosh and directed by Ribhu Dasgupta, is a different one. It's not a very nice one.
Based (officially; hallelujah!) on the Korean thriller 'Montage', the story gets straight down to business. John Biswas (Bachchan; stereotyped as the more-than-meets-the-eye septuagenarian) has spent every day of the last eight years visiting the local police station. He feels horribly responsible for the death of his 8-year granddaughter Angela, whose mysterious glove-wearing, tall kidnapper was never caught after the night everything went awry.
He looks like a private man acutely aware of the sympathy he generates. He knows, somewhat, that the sight of a weak old sod could guilt authorities into submission, and resembles a withered 3.0 version of Amitabh Bachchan in Viruddh - where he became the face of justice after his son's violent death.
Sarita (Vidya Balan), a matronly inspector, indulges him as if she would her own senile father. Martin (Nawazuddin Siddiqui; not his best), the investigator who had partially muffed up Angela's case, has now turned to Jesus Christ; he is Father Martin Das now, after presumably unable to deal with the tragedy as a disillusioned government servant. John, for him, is the ghost that reminds him of his failure. By a twist of fate that only happens in scripts that need a stroke of kick-starting luck (much like John's ancient scooter), he spots a child in a market wearing Angela's cap, and begins to follow the rather imaginative paper trail.
From an orphanage to a cemetery to its ownership deeds to a pen logo to a land firm to off-the-path red herrings, this trail bares the scent of hopelessness and dead ends. But with a stubbornness that only age can guarantee, John chugs along at an ambiguous pace. Simultaneously, Martin, who seems to be a freelance Padre with plenty of free time on his hands, gets torn between John's personal war and Sarita's handling of a new case eerily similar to Angela's. Manohar (Sabyasachi Chakrabarty) is the grandfather at the receiving end this time.
Once things get going, amidst repetitive sequences lonely John commuting across a vibrant city, the cross cutting between two investigations becomes deliberately murky. It isn't fueled by how, but rather - why?
Why is the film called Te3n? Is it just to look as ominous as David Fincher's Se7en? Surely there's more to it than three primary characters involved; technically, there are four here. Why, akin to Kahaani, are the devices of suspense visually so misleading? Note how the perpetrator looks physically poles apart - gait, body language, fitness and height - during different flashbacks. Why is each Eureka discovery made to look urgent with Nawazuddin's "of course!" expressions, or with a jarring score, when the answers are painfully obvious? Why is there a random shot of the kidnapper shadowing another child before it becomes obvious that he wanted Manohar's grandson all along? Why is generic colour coding, and not actual character features, the sole sign of timeline segregation? I hate lazy timeline trickery. Why does nothing make sense when you look back? Or, in fact, why does it make sense, but in a way that makes you feel like the kidnapped 8-year olds?
Amidst a grandfather's battle for redemption, why are the parents given such a negligible (read, delete from script) deal? And, most of all, why are (male) children made to look like inane nitwits when the world is burning around them? Is it to reiterate how much smarter girls are, given the long history of exam results?
A lot of questions, these, but I really don't appreciate being duped by narrative leaps of faith. Fool me fair and square, damn it. Don't show me a hyena, and later tell me it was a dog all along because I wasn't really looking. Dasgupta and his writers build up the cyclic world with intrigue, but then become painfully self-aware of the genre they have chosen to explore.
Even the actors look slightly confused, as to where they're supposed to be aware of how much. Nawazuddin, especially, tries to look like he is forever onto something, and comes across as a man confused about the story he is occupying. And when the identity is finally revealed, it is a bit of a surprise - not because of how well it was concealed, but because of how information was conveniently withheld and painted over to the point of no return.
Te3n is far more competent than the similarly themed Wazir this year, but is nowhere near as smart as it pretends to be. It holds your gaze, and sucks you into the chase, only to shy away and go home with bat and ball once you get too close. At best, the film is an honest attempt at being dishonest - a slow and middling effort, given the remarkable resources at hand.