Te3n : Not Adding Up
Te3n is touted as a thriller, based on the 2013 Korean film, ‘Montage.’
A little girl, Angela, is kidnapped, although subsequently, we are shown that her death was accidental. Eight years have now passed but her grandfather John Biswas (Amitabh Bachchan) has not given up hope of finding her kidnapper, even though his querulous wife (Padmavati Rao) has. Meanwhile, cop Martin (Nawazuddin Siddique) who had been handling the case, has ditched cophood and turned to the seminary.
One day while out at the market, John sees a little girl wearing the same cap his granddaughter had been wearing the last day that he saw her. He follows the cap and begins unravelling a spool that will lead him to the kidnapper. In a parallel angle, policewoman Sarita (Vidya Balan) is investigating another child kidnapping. Clues soon show that this is a copycat of the case that happened eight years ago and so Sarita toddles along to church where she mouths puerile dialogues at priest Martin such as that the kidnapper is giving him (Martin) a second chance to catch him! and we, the audience, are given a nudge, nudge, wink, wink moment that something musta linked these two apart from handcuffs. Martin plays hard-to-get for about five seconds and then abandons all thoughts of church as he enters the cops-and-robbers game again. While all this is going on, John has been pursuing his own leads in a plodding, determined way.
Up until the interval the story of Te3n remains fairly engrossing. Post interval, the pace lags considerably. ‘Montage’ can be touted as an emotional thriller: a little girl is kidnapped and almost 15-years pass by with no trace of the kidnapper. Five days before the statute of limitations runs out and the case is officially closed, a copycat kidnapping takes place. Three people – the grandfather, the mother and the detective assigned to the first kidnapping – join forces to learn the truth. (And this, presumably, is how the Indian version got its title, although this is not fleshed out in the movie.)
In Te3n, nothing is fleshed out. In spite of having such a strong, original storyline to work with, director Ribhu Dasgupta decided to mess with what’s perfect. There is the sob-sob wheelchair angle bunged in, although we don’t know how and what happened. That typical, Bollywood keening with Tarzan-like “aaaaa” moment over a dead child’s body. John Biswas, who is this hunched up old, weary man, is suddenly skulking around in a hoodie and slamming shut heavy godown doors with aplomb in the manner of John Abraham! There are entirely too many grandfathers! It is really fanciful to think that two old men can skip around so nimbly or execute a revenge kidnapping so skilfully. For no apparent reason that the mind can fathom, there is an Army angle too; mysteriously, each time – and remember there is a time element of eight years here – the ransom is picked up, there is a train full of Army jawaans streaming into the station and our savvy kidnappers find it easy to blend into the crowd by wearing camouflage uniform and carrying the typical kitbag. I suppose they also had information from Army HQ as to when this train lot of soldiers would be arriving! I’ve already said that the second case was a copycat kidnapping; ahh, but how did kidnapper B know that in the first case also this was how the ransom was collected, or, that the child was locked into a trunk that was placed in the dicky of a black van?
Rarely am I at a loss for words after having watched a movie, but I confess Te3n has me stymied. Despite the prolific presence of three writers (Suresh Nair, Ritesh Shah, Bijesh Jayarajan) the script has more holes than cheese, from which a lot of “why’s” arise: Why have the writers messed with the near-perfect plot of the original story? Why is the movie called Te3n (and never mind the quirky spelling, which idea, incidentally, is a rip-off from another Korean pop star Choi Dong-wook who spells his name as Se7en as also a 1995 American movie ‘Se7en’ starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.) Why not ‘Do’ – since two children are kidnapped? Why not ‘Aat’ since eight years pass between the first abduction and the second? Why is Angela being brought up by her grandparents, where is her mother – hey, this is a story, so I like all my ends neatly tied up. Why are all the characters portrayed as Anglo-Indian? Why does Martin suddenly turn priest from policeman? Why does nobody from the seminary say anything when he is then missing from his priestly duties for days to chase criminals instead? Why is the police not tracking down Ronnie’s grandfather who mysteriously takes off during the investigation? Why does no policeman except super cop Martin think of checking out the abandoned godown where said grandfather was supposed to have been held? Why does it say Vidya Balan has a guest appearance when she is in more frames than would justify a g.a.?
While Bachchan can never be called a “thinking” actor, Siddique and Balan certainly are. How is it then that they never pointed out crucial flaws in the script and just went along with whatever the director ordered? It is a crying shame that three writers were not able to do justice to a copycat screenplay!
Padmavati Rao is possibly the most unconvincing actress in recent times. Neither am I impressed by Sabyasachi Chakrabarty who played Ronnie’s grandfather; he hammed it up so much that I would have locked him up on suspicion of foul acting, never mind foul play! Nawazuddin Siddique is sadly wasted in this movie; this role will not go down among his better performances. The only word that comes to mind regarding Vidya Balan is – matronly! If she spreads any further she will not fit into the frame. She had two stock expressions through the movie: grimaces or frowns. Amitabh Bachchan is now perfecting the old man act. The slouched shoulders, the slow, weary gait and measured speech; he has it all down pat.
The music by Clinton Cerejo is awful; the background score is so jarring that one begs for the sound to be turned off. Lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharyya are no less unpromising; ‘Kyon re’ sung by Amitabh Bachchan, had such nonsensical words that Bachchan too was tripping over getting some of them in rhyme. Editing by Gairik Sarkar was about okay; can’t blame the poor chap for the material he had to work with.
To give credit where credit is due, the director has pulled off certain shots with aplomb. I have absolutely no idea how he managed the crazy traffic scenes given Calcutta’s horrendously notorious road sense, with a visibly shaken Bachchan on an old junk-heap of a scooter. Being a Bengali himself, Dasgupta has brought out certain elements of a typical Calcutta life well; the peculiar Bengali habit of lowering bags or baskets with the keys, Biswas haggling over the price of hilsa and the Durga statue immersions, although the latter doesn’t make much structural sense to the storyline.
Undeniably, the true hero of Te3n is cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray. He has portrayed Calcutta so lovingly and accurately that it’s almost as if I were there; the narrow, paved alleys, the crumbling facades, sunlight streaming on dust motes, the grime, frustration and despair of the main police station, the lethargy and dusty files of a government office. Not since ‘Parineeta’ has there been such a marvellous depiction of Calcutta, the city. Kudos.
*Written exclusively for The Film Writers Association of India