MINOR SPOILER ALERTS
Out of the many moment-to-moment captivating scenes in TEEN, a couple of them stand out in my memory: a) The opening scene that is a direct throw-back to that time-less comedy, GOLMAAL, and here, Amitabh replaces Utpal Dutt. It’s only the realm that is changed. GOLMAAL’s Bhavani Shankar cut a comical picture; Amitabh’s John Biswas is a defeated, depressed grand-father who’s looking for a closure to his grand-daughter’s kidnapping case that’s 8 years old. Time’s brutal; Amitabh’s gotten old, and it’s already end of June 2016, and I am getting/already old. b) Amitabh sells his rusty but reliable scooter to a peon from a government office [Land Measurement, to be precise] to get some information. The peon says it’s always been one of his dreams to own a 2-wheeler. It is a fine scene where the budgetary constraints of the peon are captured. In today’s India, where monthly-installments are the order of the day and anybody can aim to buy anything thanks to EMI, this peon is content or is forced to make himself happy with an old scooter that’s had a 74 year man as its sole-rider! To further cut into the pains of John Biswas, he also asks if the scooter has at least 2 liters of petrol, and whether he can keep the helmet. John is so attached to his vehicle that he initially refuses to part with the helmet: Later, when the peon is unable to kick-start the scooter, John comes out and starts it with a single kick, essentially comforting the peon that he has landed a win-win deal [in one of the earlier scenes, he tells a care-taker of a graveyard that his vehicle is essentially an aero-plane and rides like that; all it needs is just an occasional cleaning of the carburetor] and asks him to keep the helmet too. The next scene shows John tired, sleepy aboard a Calcutta city-bus. And there-on, for all his travails, it is the tram or the bus. How many of us have had elders sticking to an out-dated mode of technology stubbornly refusing to embrace a newer version? Amitabh captures that moment heart-tuggingly, to say the least.
Summarily, TEEN is the story of a grand-father’s attempts at closure regarding the kidnapping and death of his grand-daughter 8 years before. Another kidnapping takes place after 8 years that has the exact modus-operandi as the earlier one and it brings together a police-chief [Vidya Balan’s Sarita] and a police-official who has now turned a Priest [Nawaz’s Father Martin] owing to the failure to protect John Biswas’ ‘grand-child.’ John Biswas goes about his own way trying to investigate while, in parallel, Sarita and Father Martin try to nail the present-day kidnapping case. Whether John Biswas gets a proper closure or not, forms the rest and the crux of the story.
The film essentially works as a travelogue of John Biswas’ attempts at uncovering clues regarding his grand-daughter’s kidnapping. The thriller element comes a close second to this description. Maybe that’s the reason many of the critics keep ranting about the ‘pace’ of the film. The film takes time in evolving Amitabh’s John Biswas. For example, it spends time to show that he is kind of a DO-IT-YOURSELF [DIY] guy. If the ceiling fan breaks down, he gets a stool pronto after his wife complains and fixes it. He doesn’t believe in shoving his scooter across to the neighborhood mechanic when it sputters. He gets down to the task and cleans the carburetor to get it to ‘fly’ like an aero-plane. This logically segues into the scenes where he takes it upon himself to investigate the disappearance of his grand-daughter.
Nawaz as Father Martin emotes truthfully while stumbling at accent/s. Rippon Street is still Rippon Istreet for him – straight out of UP/Bihar belt. Sarita and John Biswas, clearly etched, are from West Bengal and comfortably delve into Bengali. Padmavati Rao as Nancy Biswas is fine as the grand-mother pleading John to let go. Sabyasachi Chakraborty as the grand-dad of the kid nabbed in the present is his usual self. Maybe it was pre-determined as a director’s or story-writer’s call, but when his grand-son is kidnapped, Sabyasachi’s Manohar Sinha comes across as someone who is not too much perturbed and is quite in control of his emotional landscapes. It raises a red-flag for the audience for sure.
Cinematography by Tushar Kanti Ray is fantastic to say the least; especially the shots of Amitabh and Nawaz riding the scooter on the Howrah or the shots of them parking the scooter on a boat to ride to Imambara. Even the indoor scenes of dilapidated bungalows are shot in rich detail. Songs are finely placed aiding the narrative, mainly GRAHAN and the Amitabh-rendered KYUN RE. Amitabh makes it a point to sing in an accentuated broken-voice [Kyun Re], symbolizing the broken spirit of a man. In other words, this is diametrically opposite to the confidence-laden baritone [Ekla Chalo]
from KAHAANI and more in line with the desperate ROZAANA JIYE [Rozaana] from Nishabdh. Still, in NISHABH, his vocal notes conveyed both the desperation and the hope and excitement of awakened-love. Here, it’s just a broken spirit and a further-broken voice.
That this movie doesn’t check the check-boxes for a traditional ‘thriller’ is a given. But beyond that, however, it is a fascinating tale where the human character-sketches take precedence to the by-the-minute thriller elements as portrayed in ZODIAC or even, GONE GIRL.
Finally, coming to Amitabh, the center-of-gravity of this venture, it’s a given that he has nailed it to the T. With the external accouterment of over-sized shirts and his own medically-infested tragedy of a cut shoulder-muscle, he embodies a broken spirit in a physically-old man with remarkable dignity. In the initial scene that I mentioned regarding the Golmaal reference, watch him say ‘OKAY’ to Vidya Balan when she asks him to go back home. That’s the embodiment of a man mechanically resigned to fate. It’s almost as though he is a toy that just needs a key turned to go through the mechanics. In the penultimate scene, he just stands for a minute, takes down his glasses, and wipes some tears. It’s been years of sleepless nights and the guilt of not having done enough to save his grand-daughter. He puts on his glasses and walks back to his home with a slouch.
This is a move that grows on you. If instant ‘thriller’ gratification is what’s you’re expecting, be ready for a disappointment. This is to be savored as old-wine, and that’s when the intoxication takes over.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT –
In the final scene, John and Ronnie are in the same frame and recognize each other at a church mass and smile at each other. Isn’t there always a danger that Ronnie might blurt-out who’s the actual kidnapper?