You can be forgiven if you mistook TE3N to be a sequel to Kahaani, for there are several similarities shared by these films. The film not only reunites Vidya Balan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, it also sees Sujoy Ghosh producing the film. Besides this, Suresh Nair and Ritesh Shah who had written the story, screenplay and dialogues for Kahaani, handle the same responsibilities for this film as well. TE3N can also be interpreted as a film that would have transpired if Vidya Balan’s character from Kahaani would have become a cop and decided to help similarly distressed souls with Nawazuddin as the I.B officer giving her company.
John Biswas (Amitabh Bachchan) is a septuagenarian grieving the kidnapping of his granddaughter that led to her demise. The identity of the person who caused this unfortunate incident is still unknown. It has been 8 years since this event transpired and Biswas is still trying to put across clues that may help him to find the culprit. There is also Father Martin (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) a cop turned priest whose efforts in helping Biswas find his granddaughter had also failed. And in present day, he’s trying to help Biswas realise that his search maybe a futile one, though he rallies in to help the latter with his search. Meanwhile a kid is abducted in a fashion similar to that of Biswas’ granddaughter and sees a cop Sarita (Vidya Balan) trying to solve the case.
Much like Kahaani, the city of Kolkata plays a pivotal part in the film. Be it the iconic Howrah Bridge or the bustling trams, marketplaces or the places that still possess the old world charm of the city, they have been strikingly shot by cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray and helps to establish the city’s presence in the proceedings. The film is dimly lit which helps to convey the sense of despair that prevails in its proceedings and establish its somber mood.
A sense of guilt also looms large throughout the film and drives the narrative forward. Bachchan’s Biswas is driven by the guilt of being unable to save his granddaughter. In order to overcome the same and achieve a sense of redemption, he works frantically towards finding the culprit. While Siddiqui’s Martin is driven by a similar sense of guilt and thus helps Bachchan’s Biswas in his seemingly futile quest of finding the culprit.
Despite being an official remake of the Korean film Montage, the hard work put in by director Ribhu Dasgupta and his team is evident. Instead of a having a frenetic pace, the film opts for leisurely pace and takes its own time to establish the proceedings. That the director adopts for a slow burn narrative is entirely his prerogative and as an audience member, one is fine with it as long as it leads to a satisfying payoff. Sadly that never happens in TE3N due to weak and ineffectual writing. The writers try their best to get us invested into the world and dilemma of the characters. But they rarely succeed beyond a point. One never really understands why Siddiqui’s Martin chooses to be a priest. Was it only the demise of Biswas’ granddaughter that led him to being a priest? Or were there similar unfortunate failures that prompted him to do so? We never come to know. As a result one is never really able to share and understand the sense of guilt his character is ridden with.
Similarly Vidya Balan’s no-nonsense and good samaritan cop doesn’t evolve much beyond a stoically written role. The other characters in the film such as Biswas’ wife (Padmavati Rao) and son-in-law (who is there just for a scene) also come off as afterthoughts. One never really understands what led to Biswas’ wife being confined to a wheelchair. What does she feel about her granddaughter’s unfortunate demise, her husband’s guilt and frantic efforts to find the killer? The film never bothers telling us about these things.
The only character we somewhat end up empathising with is that of Bachchan’s Biswas. The veteran actor sports a perpetual look of depression and speaks in a tone that conveys his sadness quite convincingly. Still it does not rank among his best performances, for we have seen him enact far more complex roles with more élan. The film also seems largely fixated with Bachchan, which may also explain the large screentime given to his character, while those around him are short-changed to quite an extent. How one wished to empathise with Nawazuddin’s dilemma or as Balan tries her best to rescue the kidnapped child. Alas that never happens.
Whether it is fast paced or opts for a leisurely pace, no thriller can catch the audience’s fancy if it does not offer jump in the seat moments or serve a twist that catches them unaware. And this happens to be TE3N’s biggest stumbling block. Midway in the film we witness a fairly well done chase scene amidst a railway platform and a train littered with a dozen armymen. This scene is pivotal as it leads to a big twist in the tale and aims to surprise the audiences. But the twist is quite a bummer and the path which the film charts thereafter is equally predictable. One does hope that the film will spring a surprise or two and prove you wrong. But that never happens and the film culminates more or less in the way one had predicted. The final reveal in fact is so underwhelming, that it leaves one wondering what the fuss was all about.
Bachchan, Balan and Siddiqui try and perform to the best of their abilities, but cannot salvage the film beyond a point. One fails to understand why Balan’s role has been billed as a special appearance inspite of her having a large screen time. Despite working hard on creating the mood and aesthetics, no film can hit home in the absence of an engaging storyline and a satisfying culmination. Director Ribhu Dasgupta’s debut feature TE3N is a glaring example of the same. I haven’t seen Montage, but TE3N lacks solid thrills and has a whimpering finale making it an underwhelming experience in its entirety.