Deftly switching between an unsolved kidnapping and a copycat crime eight years later, TE3N, directed by Ribhu Dasgupta, is a compelling thriller that slowly draws you into the suspense at the heart of its plot. Slowly being the operative word.
John Biswas (Amitabh Bachchan), his shoulders drooped, his tired eyes unable to conceal his anguish, sits quietly on a bench in a police station, awaiting news of any progress in his granddaughter Angela’s kidnapping and murder case, which he is unable to give up on. Too bad for John, everyone else has long lost hope of solving the case – the police, led by the sympathetic but helpless investigating officer Sarita (Vidya Balan), the original officer on the case who has now become a priest, Father Martin (Nawazuddin Siddiqui); and even John’s own wheelchair bound long-suffering wife.
But out of the blue, a kidnapping occurs again, the case strikingly similar to that of Angela’s. Sarita enlists the help of a reluctant Father Martin, who is still racked with guilt over what happened all those years ago. Meanwhile, John, who stumbles upon a lead, goes on his own mission trying to unravel the truth piece by piece. The film follows each of the three characters as they seek closure in their cases.
Kolkata makes for an evocative setting, and Dasgupta relies heavily on atmospherics. With audio tape recordings, fountain pens, phone booths and a rickety ol’ scooter serving as key plot points, you get the sense of being stuck in time in an old city, which, cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray films lovingly, adding texture to the story.
The screenplay (by Suresh Nair and Brijesh Jayarajan) unravels skillfully but also sluggishly, particularly the first half which culminates in a terrific twist. You do wish, more than once, that this thriller would gather pace, but frankly this isn’t so much a nail-biting tension-ridden tale as it is a suspense-soaked whodunit.
Then there are those plot holes…like the apparent ease with which John wanders in and out of people’s homes at will. As with many films in the genre, we’re required to take a giant leap of faith when faced with the facts of the crimes. The timelines are also occasionally puzzling, while some of the songs, though pleasant, stick out in this thriller.
What helps TE3N along is its superb cast of actors, each never trying to upstage the other, but steadfastly committed to their characters. Amitabh Bachchan brings to the table what only he can as the inconsolable grandfather, driven to find the kidnapper and bring him to justice at any and all costs. He’s excellent in the role, conveying defeat and helplessness in everything from his body language to his dialogue delivery. Nawazuddin Siddiqui turns guilt into a fine art, his subtle acting a foil for his character’s thirst for the truth. Vidya Balan, although billed as a special appearance, is reliably solid each time she’s on screen, raising her brow, curling her lip to effectively communicate more than words can.
Even if you do end up predicting the climax, it’s an engaging journey following all the clues and dodging the red herrings. Dasgupta’s efficient direction and an inherently riveting plot (thank you Korean film Montage, whose official remake this is!) ensure that you’re consistently invested in the outcome of the investigation. The film is as much about old age, guilt, redemption, and the morality of revenge.
I’m going with three out of five for TE3N. Had they put a little more pace into it, this thriller would fly.