By Rohini Banerjee:
Halfway into ‘Te3n’, there is a scene where Vidya Balan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui meet at a church (mouthing some super clunky dialogue, despite their performances being earnest), and you are waiting—with baited breath—to be reminded of the spark and intensity they brought to their scenes together in ‘Kahaani’. You wait and you wait, but sadly, it never appears.
That is Ribhu Dasgupta’s ‘Te3n’ for you. It tries so hard to rival the excellence of ‘Kahaani’ (to surpass it, even)—having been produced by Sujoy Ghosh and co-written by those who wrote the latter film—but fails spectacularly, despite managing to summon up decent levels of intrigue in certain places. The film follows grieving grandfather John Biswas (played by Amitabh Bachchan) as he doggedly pursues the unsolved case of his granddaughter’s kidnapping and murder which took place eight years ago, and in doing so, often involves the help of policeman-turned-pastor Martin (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Vidya Balan plays Sarita, a cop who’s refreshingly competent and no-nonsense (without falling into a ‘Mardaani‘ stereotype) and gets involved when a similar kidnapping occurs, of which she leads the investigation.
The film’s square focus lies upon Bachchan’s John Biswas, who’s performance is effortlessly stellar, and is what makes the film watchable. Bachchan yet again plays a Bengali man, but far less caricature-ish as he was in Piku, and far more real and poignant. The way he portrays and articulates his grief, helplessness, bewilderment, devastation with the subtlest of gestures and changes in body language is what keeps you glued to the screen. But sadly, nothing else is as riveting as Bachchan’s performance. Even Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who usually dazzles in everything he does, seems underwhelming in this—a bit too affected, trying hard to be sarcastic and cutting but coming across as flat and unfunny.
Te3n’s biggest enemy, however, is its writing—which stretches, meanders, convolutes, and unfolds in a far-too sluggish and far-too predictable manner, failing to make this a compelling enough thriller. When the climax, the “big twist” per se, arrives, you can smell it a mile away and by then, are so tired of the film’s slow pace and urge to spell out and explain everything that you just want it to be over. It’s a shame, because it had the potential to be an interesting climax, but is handled so poorly that it ends up being plain weird and a little bit boring.
That said, there are certain edge-of-the seat moments, despite their conclusions being unsatisfying. I must give the film credit where it’s due, because what it lacks in substance, it makes up for a little bit, in its aesthetic. Tushar Kanti Ray’s cinematography renders the bylanes, bazaars, churches and street corners of Calcutta haunting and enigmatic, and the background score (though a little too loud on a couple of occasions) adds traction to the suspense. The atmosphere, as a whole, has a distinct old-world charm which is so intrinsic to North Calcutta. In one scene, John’s wife complains about their broken fan, and John, swearing under his breath, tries to fix it, while the fading strains of a Rabindrasangeet play in the background. It is such an essential slice from a middle class Bengali household that the nostalgia almost makes you smile.
‘Te3n’ succeeds in these little moments—when it tries to delve into the inner lives of its characters, rather than spend time on convoluted subplots—when John squabbles with a fishmonger over the price of Ilish, or when Martin accidentally recites a funeral address while officiating a wedding. I almost wished that this was a character-driven story instead of being a confused crime thriller, because if it were, I would have liked it so much better.
But the fact remains that it is still a shoddily written thriller with a climax that is not just predictable, but also has a bunch of loopholes which end up making you feel frustrated more than anything else. If you do decide to watch it, watch it for Bachchan’s performance, which without doubt, is one of his bests and to see Vidya Balan finally kick some ass after a slew of unfortunate film choices. But otherwise, it’ll leave a sour taste in your mouth.