I really enjoyed Kahaani, so I’ve been looking forward to the sequel. I wanted to savor it, to save it for the right day. The right mindset, when I could appreciate its violence and thriller-ness.

Today, it was cold and rainy. I huddled under a blanket. In the United States, we are in the midst of an outrage regarding sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, the treatment of girls and women. A president who has been accused of sexual assault was allowed to nominate a judge to the Supreme Court; that judge has also been accused of assault, and despite the brave women who came forward and once again re-lived their traumas, it looks like he will be appointed to this lifetime position. The powerful protect the powerful.

And so I closed facebook, Twitter, and Jezebel, and settled in for the movie, knowing I’d at least get some vengeance. I did not read the summary, as I normally do, trusting it would be as good as the first. It was.

Kahaani is about sexual abuse, the long term effects survivors must face, the unwillingness of those in power to act and protect. Of course, unlike the world many of us inhabit, the movie saw a small measure of justice meted out in the end. Fiction, indeed.

Kahaani 2 is not a direct sequel, but setting up an anthology. The connections are the unreliable narrator/”story” aspect, as well as the same star and director. Vidya Balan again plays a woman (again named Vidya) with a secret identity. She again must navigate the perception of motherhood. Otherwise, the movies’ plots are separate.

Vidya lives a simple life with her beloved daughter, Minnie (Tunisha Sharma). Vidya is working towards getting Minnie to America for a treatment that might cure her paralysis. And then one evening, Vidya comes home from work to find the house dark and Minnie’s empty chair. A text appears with an image of Minnie, crying, her mouth covered in tape. Kidnapped.

Vidya rushes to the address on her phone’s screen, only to be hit by a car and fall into a coma. Police Sub-Inspector Inderjeet Singh (Arjun Rampal) investigates, only to discover that Vidya is actually Durga, a woman wanted for murder and kidnapping. And also Inder’s ex-wife. He finds her diary and reading it presents a series of flash-backs.

Durga works at the school Minnie attends. The child is constantly in trouble for falling asleep in class. Durga has flashes to the abuse she suffers as a child, and hopes to discover what is happening to Minnie. Indeed, we see Durga is interesting in a kind, gentle man, but when he touches her unexpectedly, she jumps. She does not want Minnie to grow up with that.

Eventually, Durga learns that Minnie is being abused by her Uncle Mohit (Jugal Hansraj). Durga confronts the family (Minnie lives with both her uncle and her grandmother [Amba Sanyal]), and then the police, to no avail. The family is wealthy, so no one in power believes they would do or cover up such a thing. Grandmother, in fact, has blamed the little girl. Minnie jumps off of the roof, leading to her paralysis. The family pays a corrupt cop (or she might be a killer-for-hire posing as a cop; it’s not entirely clear) to kill Durga. Durga is able to escape and make it to the hospital before Grandmother kills Minnie. Durga takes the child and flees.

And indeed, “who could do such a thing?” is a main theme in the movie. When Minnie’s nurse is questioned about whether Vidya is really her mother, the nurse says, “Only a mother could love a child so much.” The police ask, “He is Minnie’s uncle, how could he do that?” Relation by blood does not guarantee protection. Nor does wealth, or being from a “good” family.

Durga explains, as the movie ends, “He’s just as normal as you and me.” Evil acts are committed not just by monsters but by normal people. That we can so easily identify the clearly monstrous feeds into the false idea that we will be safe if we just do, or not do, certain things.

Vidya wakes from her coma. After an altercation with the corrupt cop/killer for hire, she rushes home and then to Kolkata to find Minnie, who is being held by her uncle. They want Vidya/Durga to kill the girl; Durga tries to reason with the killer for hire, offering money to kill Mohit instead. Mohit shoots the killer, then tries to kill Durga; Minnie is able to get the gun and kill Mohit. And so the girl must enact violence in order to answer the violence done to her.

Durga begs Indree for help, but the police close in on what she thought was a safe house. She blows it up rather than be separated from her daughter. The men tried to destroy them; is her enacting the destruction herself a victory?

But we learn Indree had been helping her, and Durga and Minnie are safe. They are able to travel to America for Minnie’s operation. The system failed them, but one man, at least, was able to help.

The film is explicit about what is happening, using the term “sexual abuse.” But it does not show us what has happened to the girl. We see after effects: Minnie’s bruises, Durga’s fear at being touched. The movie does present two sex scenes in contrast: a fun consensual scene between Indree and his wife (which actually has some somewhat rough elements to it; he puts his hand over her mouth, for example, but it’s clear they are both enjoying themselves); and a scene of dubious consent between Durga and her boyfriend (she agrees to it, but it’s clear she feels obligated, and isn’t fully present the way Indree’s wife is). The audience does not get to partake in the salacious acts, on vulnerable bodies, but gets to witness the aftermath, the fear and shame.

For the past week in the United States, we keep hearing, “Why didn’t you come forward? Why didn’t you report the assault, abuse, rape?” By its nature, the movie is a bit extreme (the family hiring the killer for hire), but still neatly lays out why: because no one will believe. The cops don’t believe. The principle doesn’t believe. The grandmother knows but says children lie, why should we believe what six-year-old Minnie says? The police return the girl to her abuser, and her family uses this as a weapon against Durga. Because reporting should have led to safety and instead only led to more extreme violence.

Durga “wins;” she is able to take Minnie to New York. Maybe Minnie will be healed, maybe not, but they will be together. But she wins thanks to the intervention of one person. That person is part of the system but still must work around it, not within it. And part of why he helps is because he has a personal connection to Durga. Had he not had that connection, had he not been willing to help, Durga probably would have “lost.” I happy to cheer her one, but what is the resolution for so many other victims and survivors?

Keep talking. Keep demanding. Keep fighting. Keep living.

Posted by Natasha

Natasha received her MA in Literature and Culture in 2008 from Oregon State University. Currently she lives in Oregon with her husband and cats.

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