It’s impossible to not think about ‘Kahaani’ while watching ‘Te3n’.
To begin with, ‘Kahaani’ director Sujoy Ghosh gets into the producer’s chair, while writing duo Suresh Nair and Ritesh Shah return along with new addition Bijesh Jayarajan. There’s a distinct similarity in storytelling style, and look and feel. Both Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vidya Balan come back, joined by Amitabh Bachchan, whose rendition of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Ekla Chalo Re” in ‘Kahaani’ is indelible. This one’s a thriller set in Kolkata too, relying on old-world spaces, shots of the looming Howrah Bridge, and Old Calcutta bylanes.
Now, none of this is a bad thing. If anything, the trailer of ‘Te3n’ gave hopes of a welcome retreat into the world Ghosh wove four years ago, and the promise of the team delivering an even more robust product second time around. The film is an official remake of the South Korean thriller, ‘Montage’, so there’s a readymade plot too, climax twist et al.
The adaptation is faithful, and whatever digressions the writers take seem smart on paper. The lead protagonist in the original was the mother of a girl kidnapped 15 years before the story began. The mother is replaced here by a crusty, old grandfather in a role that screams “Bachchan” in its every pore (If the main character remained a mother and, assuming, Vidya Balan had played the role, this might most certainly have been called ‘Kahaani 2’).
In ‘Te3n’, the kid went missing eight years before the events of the story, and ended up dead (that part is specified very early on). Bachchan’s character, John, however remains haunted by his granddaughter’s death, and continues looking for the perpetrator. He also keeps landing up to meet Martin (Siddiqui), the officer assigned to the case 8 years ago, now a priest. Things take a turn when a second child goes missing, and the kidnapper using the same modus operandi as the one eight years ago. The cop assigned to the new case (Vidya Balan) reaches out to Martin to help her with solving it.
I stopped watching ‘Montage’ midway a few days before I saw ‘Te3n’, wanting the suspense to remain intact. Yet, without knowing how the film ended, I could see Te3n’s final reveal from a mile away. A predictable end, however, doesn’t and shouldn’t come in the way of a taut, layered suspense thriller. Some of the best suspense films, in fact, are enjoyable even more on second viewing, when you return to study how the drama builds up to a revelation you’re already aware of.
The problem with ‘Te3n’ is the journey itself. The film unfolds at an excruciating pace, which is never a problem if the drama itself is engaging. ‘Te3n’, though, takes too much pride in being a “slow burn” thriller, turning into a slow bore instead, the languidness never helping the drama. A scene, for instance, where a character cracks a major clue is so leisurely written and edited, the audience gets to the revelation much before the character, making the rest of the scene useless.
The film spends a good amount of time outlining the grief of the grandparent, a necessary investment if you want to really empathise with the character and invest emotionally in the victim. But this too stops the thriller element from kicking in fast enough.
Bachchan is fantastic, taking on a Bengali character second time in two years. In ‘Piku’, I found the performance caricaturish (even if therein lay its charm), but his rendition of the Catholic, John, who’s lived in Kolkata all of his life, is so much more nuanced and compelling. Tragically, though, Bhaskar Banerjee belonged to a world that worked in entirety, whereas John provides redemption in a disappointing setup.
There are some other silver linings: Tushar Kanti Ray’s cinematography, which heightens the suspenseful elements, and the wonderful camaraderie between Bachchan and Siddiqui, which you witness only briefly. Their scenes together in the first half, in fact—with Siddiqui riding pillion on Bachchan’s worn out scooter as the duo ride across Kolkata streets—seemed like an origin story set-up; an unlikely detective team falling in place, but sadly, the film moves in a different direction after. There are a couple of things the story touches upon, but which the writers fail to address later—an awkwardly-staged interaction between Siddiqui and Balan hinting at a romantic history, for example.
Balan breathes life into her character of the investigating cop assigned to the new case, while the faultless Siddiqui props up even the limpest scenes. Writers, it seems, struggle with the necessity to come up with one-liners that do justice to the actor’s ability to pull them off, and that’s very pronounced in ‘Te3n’ (at one point, Siddiqui says “aadha kilo guilt” with his trademark spitting-lines-out fashion, bringing a chuckle even with a dialogue that really had no place in this film).
That ‘Te3n’ is lazily written is a travesty, given the acting talent attached to this film. Director Ribhu Dasgupta gets to make his feature film debut with the kind of performers you feel fortunate to see together, but he can’t rise above the problematic screenplay. The director helmed the TV show, ‘Yudh’ (also featuring Bachchan in the lead) before this, and a similar misplaced slow burn approach played spoilsport there too.
‘Te3n’, then, is a letdown—a film you aren’t happy disliking because there seems to be so much going for it. Even though eventually unfulfilling, the actors ensure the film remains watchable. Just go in with low expectations.