Eight years. That’s how long John Biswas (Amitabh Bachchan) has been chasing a ghost. His granddaughter was kidnapped and she turned up dead – he wants justice. He wants to find the kidnapper who vanished into thin air. He keeps haunting the local police station, where the top cop (Sarita, played by Vidya Balan, strangely billed as a guest star despite a decent-sized role) eyes him with a mix of pity and compassion, as though Bachchan’s character from Black had wandered off from the hospital and shuffled his way here.
Bachchan is as spry a septuagenarian as you’ve seen, but in Ribhu Dasgupta’s Te3n, he lets his shoulders slouch, his jaw drop – he wears ill-fitting shirts that suggest he’s lost a lot of weight in these eight years. He’s become something of a ghost himself. He’s also become something of a detective, tracking a series of clues that appear like magic. In crowded Kolkata (exquisitely shot by Tushar Kanti Ray), John just happens to find a little girl wearing his granddaughter’s cap. Later, when his scooter won’t start, he requests a small tool to clean the spark plug – he gets a pen that just happens to contain another clue. I began to wonder, especially with the ghostly green tint in the lighting, if the dead granddaughter’s spirit was nudging John towards the solution to the mystery.
But Te3n is very much a real-world mystery, a completely underwhelming one (adapted from South Korea’s Montage). Dasgupta is certainly talented. His vision of Kolkata isn’t one of malls and multiplexes but of paint-peeled houses and dimly lit godowns. The city seems to be as old and washed-up as John. But the prime requirement of a thriller isn’t production design. It’s… thrills. Until the preposterous final stretch (I didn’t buy a minute of it!), there isn’t much by way of thriller dynamics. We get what’s meant to be a twist at the interval point, and it’s a big “Really?”
I kept wondering why none of this was working, and I think at least part of it is because we aren’t invested in anyone’s plight. The characters are defined only through what they bring towards solving the mystery, and we keep hungering for scraps of their personal life, especially given there’s so much shared history. How did John’s wife end up in a wheelchair? Why does John’s son-in-law play such a small part in the story? Surely he’s grieving too. What is Prakash Belawadi doing here? Why not give us a few scenes detailing Martin’s (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) transformation from cop to priest? And what does Sarita do when not chasing kidnappers? You may feel these detours may have slowed down the story, but this story, in any case, moves very, very slowly. The background score desperately tries to shake things up, and it feels like a Diwali celebration in a Vipassana centre.
It’s a result of Dasgupta trying to class up the material, with themes and suchlike. Guilt is a running theme. John feels guilty that he wasn’t able to take care of his granddaughter after promising his daughter he’d do so. Martin, too, feels guilty about the girl’s death. Sabyasachi Chakrabarty plays a character who should have felt guilty about the things he’s done. I hope Dasgupta is feeling some amount of guilt too, for managing to pull together such a first-rate cast and crew and still getting trounced by Jazbaa in the battle of the South Korean thriller remakes.
- Jazbaa = see here
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