NEW DELHI: “Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

-Khalil Gibran

Is Kahaani 2 a suspense thriller? Is it a murder mystery? Is it a story on the mother-child bonding? Does it defy any genre classification?

Sujoy Ghosh who became a celebrity director overnight with Kahaani some years ago, comes back with a bang with Kahaani 2 which in no way is a sequel of Kahaani.

This is a completely different film which uses suspense, exudes the temperament of a dynamic action thriller blended to define a strange bonding between a mother and her daughter living under the constant threat of being found out from their hiding.

If you peel away these outer layers, what you find at the core is an incredibly shocking story of child sexual abuse perpetrated by a close family member who sexually abuses the child even before the child understands what “sex” and “abuse” are all about.

What, or who, are they hiding from? Why are they hiding at all when they appear to be a normal mother-daughter pair living in a small, low-strata flat in Chandannagore, a suburban town near Kolkata which once was a French colony?

The answers to these intriguing questions form the content of Kahaani 2 which unfolds at a crazy pace, revealing one layer after another, like the skins of an onion being peeled off to show the white core inside, the story of one woman’s pervasive struggle to rescue a six-year-old girl from persistent incest by her own uncle in the full knowledge of this man’s mother and her grandmother.

Dr Narayana Reddy, Chennai-based sexologist, says that incest is contextually different in India. “It is customary in our culture for uncles to marry nieces. Technically speaking, that is also incest. We just need to use the term carefully. But beyond that, I would say incest is prevalent in India and there should be a separate legislation to handle the crime.”

Dr. Sanjay Chugh, senior consultant psychiatrist, Delhi, says, “There are various definitions given to explain incestuous rape. However, incest is usually defined as sexual contact between persons who are so closely related that their marriage is illegal (e.g., parents and children, uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews). An incestuous rape would be when such a sexual relationship is carried out by force, without the consent of one person. Child sexual abuse often comes to light when childhood histories are explored and in most cases, the perpetrator is a known person who is close to the family or inside the family.”

Parents and/or guardians in the absence of parents can be tyrants. The word ‘tyrant’ is used in the sense of being totally in control of a situation, in the laying down of regulations and making sure an individual strictly adheres to them. Such manifestations happen when someone has absolute power over someone else.

In Kahaani 2, Minnie’s grandmother and uncle, in the absence of her parents, have this power over her. She is helpless and must depend on these two people who mercilessly abuse their power. The people on who she must depend for every physical and emotional need, for protection from danger and death are the very people who make her life worse than death. They decide behavioural rules in a politico-social, pyramid-like structure, where they are rulers and Minnie, their subject. For the uncle and his mother, the initial euphoria of authority and power is so intoxicating that they find it difficult to give it up. Time, for them, stands frozen at the moment when Minnie was orphaned.

They refuse to let her take wings, or test her strength against opposition and try to establish an identity of her own. You cannot expect a six-year-old to learn even the ramifications of the sexual torture she is being subjected to, night after night after night. The only two things she knows is that she does not like it at all and that she is forced into it.

On the surface, story-writer-director Sujoy Ghosh uses the elements of a crazily driven, jet-paced edited suspense thriller stripped of the normal glitzy frills of colour, songs, romance or even a sad back story that might trigger the tear glands of the overly sentimental in the audience.

To this critic however, Kahaani 2 reaches beyond suspense and kidnapping and murder to evolve into a strong statement against incestuous child abuse. The suggestion that the protagonist, Durga Rani Singh (Vidya Sinha) was a victim of incestuous child abuse is suggested repeatedly at different points of the film but never articulated visually or orally by Durga, a simple clerk in a high-end school at Kalimpong eight years before the real story of the film opens.

Durga finds out from behind her counter in the school office that Minnie, a little girl of six, is being subjected to persistent sexual abuse so much that she falls asleep in class and her grades begin to fall. Durga could have ignored it all and gone on with her life. But she does not and launches her own inquiry into the truth through falsities that trap her in an extreme no-exit situation she has no option but to run away from with Minnie to Chandannagore. She takes up a job, hires a nurse to take care of her wheel chaired daughter and tries to spend as much quality time as she can with the growing girl.

The sudden metamorphosis of this less-than-ordinary woman from Durga Rani Singh to Vidya Sinha is delicately woven through a strong script and more importantly, by the power-packed performance of Vidya Balan. With unkempt hair, face stripped of make-up, shabbily dressed, apparently timid, apprehensive and an introvert, Durga/Vidya shies away from the promise of a bright future with boyfriend Arun in London. Between finding a bright future with Arun and saving the little Minnie from the torture of incest, she chooses the latter, at her own peril.

The actual act of abuse is never shown in the film but the subtlety in expression makes the statement all that more powerful and intense. There is just a glimpse of a red bruise on the inner thigh of the little girl. Or, she expresses herself through doodles of circles trying to repeat what she cannot articulate in words. “How do you expect a six-year-old child to be able to distinguish between physical affection and physical abuse?” says Durga/Vidya again and again to the police, to the school’s principal, to everyone else who are cowed by the power of aristocracy and affluence of the torturing family.

Incest of children by a close relative knows no geographical boundaries. Nor can it be ascribed to a single political ideology or to one economic system. It transcends barriers of age, class, language, caste, community, sex, race and blood. The strength that seems to create, sustain and promote the molestation or sexual abuse by one individual, or a group of individuals on another, is power. This power may be visible in direct action - physically, verbally or emotionally.

The second face of power is seen in attempts to stifle an issue as it emerges. Or, in attempts to redefine or reshape an issue into something less threatening. The third face of power is the hardest to discern. This is used to manipulate people’s perceptions in such a way that they are unaware of having a grievance and naturalise it within themselves. The history of incest by family members of their own children is littered with examples of all three faces of power.

Of course, the film suffers from some logical lapses. The perpetrators of child abuse trying to kill the child and chasing this victim and her ‘kidnapper” suddenly after eight long years is a bit too stretched. The sudden and dramatic twists in the story as it jets its way to an electric climax tends to surrender to melodrama, a sad compromise for a very strong film.

The film is invested with a typical “Bengali” identity which marks a remarkably distinct departure from the loudness of Punjabi colour and music and dance and dialogue. Arjun Rampal as the police inspector is too suave, sophisticated and handsome a policeman when juxtaposed against his garrulous and heavyweight boss Haldar portrayed with his unique charm by Kharaj Mukherjee.

Tota Roy Choudhury’s curly crop takes years off his real age and he comes across convincingly as Durga’s boyfriend Arun, the only person perhaps, she could place her faith in but decides not to. The cinematography captures the flavours and essences across the hilly terrains of Kalimpong to move back and forth between Kolkata and Chandannagore. The editing needed to be a bit brisque during the phases when Durga is trying to find out Minnie’s problem and perhaps a bit slower towards the end when it seems to be in a tearing hurry to arrive at a mainstream-compromising climax.

Child incest abuse is a subject Indian filmmakers try to keep away from. At the most, they are used as a twist to a tale as a climax to the film. Two examples that crop up at once are Monsoon Wedding and Highway.

In both films, it is left to the victim, now grown up, to proclaim in front of the entire family that as a child, she was constantly subjected to sexual abuse by her own uncle who her parents benefited from and therefore, forced her to keep silent. “They told me to be cautious while moving around outside and making friends. But they never told me that the danger was right there in my own home.”

So, it goes to the credit of Sujoy Ghosh and his entire team for bringing this across in Kahaani 2 so brazenly like electric shocks hitting you one after another without any sign of fear or favour or the fate of such a film at the box office coffers.

Good work Sujoy Ghosh and team. The suspense and the thrills are the entertainment factor of the film. The subject of child abuse offers a learning experience to one and all. The floating tunes of the prayer song ananda lokey mangala lokey against the credits scrolling in the end is a good touch.