First of all, both films have unlikely protagonists, played by actors of unarguable repute who have suddenly claimed the status of stars. Both Irrfan and Vidya Balan are the finest actors we have today, but none have enjoyed the fan-following that many ‘stars’ have. Hopefully that will change now. Vidya did it with ‘The Dirty Picture’ and now she has followed it with ‘Kahaani’. And going by the cheers and claps that Irrfan’s performance is receiving, I am forced to dream that it will soon become a regular thing – powerful actors, not necessarily stars, will drive the audience to the theatres and their films to commercial success. Also notice that both films have just one big actor, and they are surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast. The work of these supporting actors must be applauded, because it is not easy to be noticed in a small role when you are sharing screen space with such fine and well-known lead actors.
The second common point between the two films is their makers. Sujoy Ghosh and Tigmanshu Dhulia had started their respective careers with small but significant films that eventually attained a remarkable fan-following. But then their careers could not take flight. Now they are back, reminding us of the promise they had made with their first films, and have just made the most successful films of their careers. They chose powerful and ‘different’ stories, based in their ‘home-territories’ – the milieu closest to their personalities, and we saw the result – confident, uninhibited storytelling, flavored with detailed understanding of the ‘worlds’ these stories were set in. Try to imagine ‘Kahaani’ without the infectious and intimidating Durga-Puja fervor on the streets of Kolkata, or ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ without the local dialect and the barren landscape, and you will understand the importance of milieu in cinematic storytelling. These two films have proved yet again that in the vast collective consciousness of our country there are numerous stories waiting to be told, and which can be exotic, not by mimicking foreign films and cultures, but by simply exploring the richness of our own culture and tradition. There is so much of inspiration around us that it is unfortunate that we have to resort to remakes and sequels and shameless plagiarism from other sources in order to make successful films.
And that brings me to the third and the most heartening similarity between the two films – the response from the audience. Gone are the days, and I hope this is true, when we watched brilliant films in empty theatres and regretted their commercial failure only because they were not ‘main-stream’. Both ‘Kahaani’ and ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ are very engaging and entertaining films, and thanks to the unanimously positive reviews and strong word-of-mouth, the theatres are full. I watched both movies on Monday mornings and the theatres were fairly crowded. This is the most encouraging sign for me.
Going back to the three observations, I feel, there is nothing new in what I have written. Whenever a competent film-maker comes up with a strong story and adds parts of his/her own self into it, it results in a good film. Whenever fine actors get author-backed roles, lead or otherwise, they give memorable performances. And the film-buff is always delighted to appreciate such efforts by true heroes and self-assured storytellers. That it has happened with two films within a span of eight days is a good news for all of us. And we won’t ever mind this happening more often.