Two’s company, Te3n’s a crowd-pleaser!
Staring down the barrel of a gun, with my life solely dependent on producing a visually breath-taking piece of cinematic art and the only option given is of one sub-continental city as a filming location, I would be in Kolkata with my frikking filming gear, before anyone could even count to teen.
It’s also not hard to see how these pioneers, along with the city, still hold sway with serious contemporary Indian filmmakers. You have got Sujoy Ghosh of Kahaani (2012), Shoojit Sircar of Piku (2015), Dibakar Banerjee of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015) and now Ribhu Dasgupta with Te3n (2016), all having the cultural capital of India embedded as a vital character in their movies.
And you know what?
I wouldn’t blame any of these directors for taking liberties with the enigmatic Kolkata. Because, if settings add emotions to a visual piece then they don’t come more atmospheric than the capital of West Bengal with its elusive lanes juxtaposed with the bustling markets, and Te3n, owing in no small parts to the city, is a marvel of moody photography.
A remake of 2013’s award winning Korean thriller Montage, Te3n is a gritty police procedural that splices together a disparate trio in search for clues about a kidnapping and a child murder.
With themes of loss, revenge and redemption, the visual Kolkatan treat is latest in line of grimtertainments, following Wazir (2016), Traffic (2016) and Veerappan (2016), gracing Indian cinemas this year alone.
The intense whodunnit drama kicks off with John Biswas (Amitabh Bachchan) who for the past eight years is in relentless but hopeless pursuit of justice and personal closure by persuading the authorities to find the kidnapper of his grand-daughter, Angela, who dies during a ransom handover gone awry.
Biswas’s religious daily visits to the police station to meet sympathetic Inspector Sarita Sarkar (Vidya Balan) only ends in him being consoled, since with no leads in the case the police have almost given up on finding the abductor.
But after years of resolutely pursuing in vain the trail that had apparently long gone cold, Biswas stumbles upon a clue and tries enlisting the help of a reluctant Martin Das (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the cop originally assigned to the case.
Guilt-ridden over the botched-up investigation and the girl’s death, Das in seeking his own redemption leaves the police force and finds solace as a priest. He even makes a half-hearted attempt to help Biswas just for the heck of it, but it is only when another kid is uncannily abducted in exactly the same fashion that Father Das along with Inspector Sarita Sarkar and John Biswas set out to exorcise old ghosts and hunt down the perpetrator.
The two kidnappings are virtually identical. But is it a copycat crime or is Angela’s kidnapper back?
What follows is a two-track chase to nab the criminal mastermind, with the cops chasing one set of clues, while John Biswas – despite his weary old age – is tracking down the culprit all on his own.
It was the mid-90s, the time when Mr Bachchan was living out his mid-life crisis and even though I wasn’t all that old, I distinctly remember writing him off completely, after watching the fella bumble it out in a stinker of a film called Insaniyat (1994). Now almost 20 years down the lane, Amitabh Bachchan is a man resurrected! With some truly delightful performance in Piku and Wazir in recent times, Big B has reinvented himself and is now going from strength to strength.
In Te3n, Bachchan is impeccable as the bereaved grandfather. He oozes the persona of a politely dogged septuagenarian who won’t let anything stop him from finding the kidnapper of his grandchild; not old age, no way an old rickety scooter, not even his constantly pestering wheelchair-bound wife.
Nawazuddin on the other hand, was a tad underwhelming with his act as a guilt-wracked priest. But I guess it’s only since we are now so used to him sinking his teeth into complex roles like this with such élan that even a slightly below par performance has made me label it as somewhat unfulfilling.
Vidya with her portrayal as a no-nonsense policewoman required a bit more conviction from the accomplished actor. While a little more characterisation finesse on the script’s part would also have helped her cause.
The strength of Te3n lies in gripping and edgy plotting which deftly criss-crosses amid the past and the present and skilfully oscillates between an unsolved child abduction and a copycat crime 15 years later. All this while throwing in some very thorny dilemmas revolving around the morality of revenge is what makes the movie such an intriguing watch.
Desperately wanting to succeed as a human drama, Te3n transcends the gimmickry deployment of cheap thrills by a lot of its contemporaries in employing a slow and a simmering narrative rather than being pulsating and quick-paced. So don’t go expecting too many edge-of-the-seat moments.
Others might view this as a slight on their thrill sensibilities, but to me it was just another reason to let the milieu of mystifying Kolkata with its Durga immersion processions, the slowly decaying Anglo-Indian community and all the tram plus river boat rides, sink in my already delirious senses.
Te3n is not without its fair share of weaknesses though. Along with minor character development glitches and nothing-to-write-home-about dialogues, the slow-burning drama about crime, tragedy, guilt and retribution is a slight drag and could have done with some snipping right at the end.
But then again let’s not nit-pick and chalk these trivial flaws off as the work of an industry trying hard to mature in line with its audience’s tastes, but yet commendably committed to a new brand of realism.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.