One of the first things to intrigue you about Ribhu Dasgupta’s Te3n is the title itself. An official remake of the South Korean thriller Montage (Jung Geun-Sub, 2013), the use of the numerical in the word comes across as an obvious throwback to another much celebrated thriller, Se7en (David Fincher, 1995). The connections are still somewhat ambiguous since throughout the film, things happen in twos and not in threes. Unless of course one considers three Bollywood A-Listers in a cast, which otherwise comprises of actors from Bengali and other regional film industries. Still, the writer and director or whoever responsible could’ve done better with the title!
The film is about the kidnapping and subsequent death of a little girl which took place eight years ago. Her grandfather John Biswas (Amitabh Bachchan) hasn’t been able to come to terms with the grief and continues making rounds of police station, looking for a sense of closure. The police officer in charge of that case Martin Das (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) had something of a spiritual breakdown following his failure to save the little girl and he turned to God, took up priesthood and has become the endearing Father Martin. And then one day John stumbles upon a discovery which starts to point towards further leads and clues about the eight year old kidnapping case. Simultaneously, there happens another case of kidnapping in the city bearing striking resemblance to the older one. The cop-in-charge Sarita Sarkar (Vidya Balan) attempts to enlist the help of Father Martin while John embarks upon his own crusade.
While the premise certainly looks promising, the screenplay fails to do any justice to it. One of the main problems with the film is that it lacks the required narrative focus for a genre film to succeed. Te3n appears to be too confused to be a generic police procedural. It keeps on swaying among the themes of grief, guilt, redemption, vengeance, memories among others without dealing with any one of them in detail. In its attempt to include and address too many factors, the film often becomes too slow where scenes keep following one another and yet there is no sense of progress in the narrative. And contrary to such an idea, the film adapts a so-called ‘smart’ editing style which involves cutting in the middle of an action breaking the continuity. This not only comes across as superficial and unnecessary but completely counter-intuitive to the content of the film, where an old man’s grief-stricken life has almost come to a halt because of a tragedy.
Having said all that, Te3n is certainly not among the worst films and neither is it anywhere near the finest. The best possible way to describe the film is to say that it falls short. Just like in cricket, where even a well-timed and well placed drive can just fall short of the boundary line, Te3n fails to cross the boundary of mediocrity and redundancy in order to become an intense, dark and smartly crafted thriller. The premise and possibilities were all there, but primarily a failure in the writing department and an overall lack of direction resulted in a film which turned out to be both unengaging as well as predictable. For instance, the decision to use Kolkata as a backdrop for this plot to unfold could have been very effective. Although nowhere near as old as the other major Indian cities, Kolkata is permanently wrapped in yesterday’s memories and both unwilling and unable to come out of it. However the images of Kolkata encountered in the film failed to bring out this aspect and like other elements in the film, this one also became superfluous; the space merely became a setting.
On hindsight, the best part of the film is certainly Amitabh Bachchan. He has reached the age in his life and in his stardom where his sheer presence on screen is like a bank of memories. And he is skilful and intelligent enough to use them to produce the best results, the flick of an eye, and the hint of a smile or a whispering line that ends in a sigh. There is a fair chance that the director fell in love with all these and somewhere down the line the film itself took a backseat!
Arup Ratan Samajdar