I was looking forward to watching ‘Te3n’ from the day I caught a glimpse of the brilliantly made motion poster of the movie. I really enjoyed watching ‘Kahaani’ and the prospect of another thriller based in Kolkata, with Shujoy Ghosh, the director of ‘Kahaani’ as a creative producer and a star cast that combined Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vidya Balan, both ‘Kahaani’ veterans, with Amitabh Bachchan and Sabyasachi Chakraborty, seemed all too enticing.
The connection with ‘Kahaani’ was also made apparent at the beginning of the movie, as the character of Amitabh Bachchan is named John Biswas, a reference to Bob Biswas, the iconic serial killer from the movie directed by Sujoy Ghosh.
Inspite of the high expectations though, ‘Te3n’ ends up as an underwhelming and confused movie, more a run of the mill fare than a standout effort.
A copy book good thriller is one that establishes a crime at the beginning and weaves an intricate plot around the investigation, revealing one clue at a time, stoking the audience’s curiosity as well as confounding them with red herrings along the way, and finally leading them to a surprising climax, that is both unexpected in its nature as well as intellectually satisfying, leaving the audience with the feeling of “How did I not see that coming?”, without resorting to any shortcuts or introduction of ‘Deus ex Machina’.
‘Te3n’ tries to assiduously stick to this routine and does a decent job while doing so. The pace meanders in the first half but gradually picks up between the interval and the climax. And to its credit, the revelation at the end is pretty unexpected.
The problem with making your climax too shocking is that the loose ends become difficult to tie up. And this is what lets the movie down. There are more holes in the script than in a busy North Kolkata Street during monsoon. Instead of feeling satisfied with the climax, you get a sense of being taken for a ride just to get one unexpected twist in the end, the kind of feeling you get while watching an Abbas-Mustan movie.
Of course ‘Te3n’ is not just a bland whodunit; the movie also tries to inject emotion into the proceedings. The relationship between Amitabh Bachchan and his granddaughter is beautifully portrayed and it is impossible not to feel a pang of sorrow for the withered old man trying desperately for eight years to get justice. Bachchan brings out the tenacity of his character, limited only by the physical frailties of his age, with a superb yet understated performance, much more layered and subtle than a few of his recent ones. But the characters of Siddiqui and Balan are weak and underdeveloped and their interactions are forced and humourless. The movie has very little in the form of memorable dialogues, noteworthy cameos or tense interactions. Which is a shame given the kind of acting prowess the movie manages to ensemble.
Another grouse against the movie is the way the city of Kolkata has been treated. Kolkata with its byzantine network of lanes and bylanes, unique quirks and customs, trams and yellow ambassadors, colourful graffiti and dark sense of humour, the majestic Ganga and century old buildings, a buzzing city life set against a perpetual sense of dilapidation and decay, offers a charm and timelessness to the screen that is too hard to resist. In a plethora of movies, from Satyajit Ray’s Kolkata trilogy to the recent ‘Kahaani’, ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’ and ‘Piku’, the city does not just offer the background for the story to unfold, it almost stars as one of the important characters in the plot. In ‘Te3n’ though, apart from certain delightful scenes in the beginning of the movie (like when Bachchan returns home on his scooter, wading through a crowded dashami procession or a scene set in a fish market where he haggles with the seller), Kolkata remains largely in the background as an anonymous spectator rather than as a critical protagonist. This may be a conscious decision on the part of the director, but this is again another opportunity wasted.
May be my expectation from the movie was too high. May be the comparisons with ‘Kahaani’ are a little unfair. But in the end, ‘Te3n’ is an honest effort that shows promise but falls short. With a stronger screenplay and tighter editing, it could have been a much better movie.