Talaash : Movie Review

3 & 3/4 stars out of 5 (Close to Excellent)

Director : Reema Kagti

2012, Hindi (English subtitles available)

Aamir Khan in recent years has started revealing public evidence of his knack in recognizing the talents of special women. In Kiran Rao, he glimpsed an artist who would go on to make one of the finest debuts from any Hindi film director. In Ghajni, which is a desi trashy transfer of the genius in ’Memento’, he saw Goddess Lakshmi. And in Reema Kagti , he saw a film-maker with whom he wouldn’t mind working ,and who deserved another good break as a full-fledged helmer in the industry. Her second directorial venture- Talaash - is not the best Indian thriller to hit world-wide screens this year (that title belongs to ’Kahaani’) but it certainly won’t leave you searching in vain for cinematic merit. Building an absorbing mystery for the majority of its run-time , with strong emotional currents churning in its nebulous depths, the film inveigles with sufficient undertug before ebbing into a finale that is too watered down for its own good.

There are few things as deliciously chilling as a well-crafted suggestion of the supernatural. When things kick off, on a sea-side road in Bombay at late night, a car suddenly swerves, loses control and smashes past the pavement before launching off and falling violently into the sea. The lone person in it - a man -drowns. He is later revealed to be Armaan Kapoor -a filmstar. Moustachioed inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawath (Aamir Khan) arrives on the scene to investigate. It seems that this is not the first time that such an accident has happened on the same spot. Those past cases were deemed ’A-final’ -a neat cryptic label for ’unsolvable’. This one seems to be going in the same direction- an uneasy constable tells Surjan Singh. He uses that unsettling term "anhonie" (translated in the English subtitles as a "freak" accident)

Surjan has issues of his own to resolve. A deep personal loss is haunting him and his wife Shreya (played by Rani Mukherjee) He sends her to a psychiatrist, and while Shreya does open up to speak to the doctor, she corrrectly observes that her self-blaming husband needs the therapy more than her. He spends nights away from home,and their marriage is swimming towards the rocks. And he erupts with rage on discovering that a seance practitioner (an eerie turn by Shernaz Patel) has made an impression on Shreya.

Meanwhile, a sex-worker Rosie (portayed by Kareena Kapoor) slinks into the orbit of Surjan and nuzzles him with offers of taking away his worries. Pimps, hustlers, brothels,corporate honchos and debauched rich kids all tumble into the fray as the plot thickens and bubbles. The climax ,though far from perfect, is notable for its structural and psychological design - what initially appears ridiculously melodramatic may actually be a thing of symmetry.

If this was a thriller about only the mystery of the unusual death and the consequent skulduggery ,Talaash wouldn’t have possessed the affecting impact that carries it through. Racked by unwarranted guilt, Surjan stalks the nights of the city unsure about exactly which demon he is exorcising.The impossible regret over what could have been ,is exquisitely captured in a simple scene in which he imagines an alternative past . And then there is his interaction with the coquettish Rosie. She is much more beautiful than the other sex-workers seen here, and her mannerisms are not harsh. As his tensions mount, and Rosie’s charms continue to swirl invitingly , he gazes at her and perhaps thinks- there is venom floating all around anyway, why not add some more poison to the mix?

Rationalists who find it tough to suspend their disbelief will be less entertained. I ask them- Is love rational? Is love scientific? I don’t think so. Then why can’t some other facets of life acquire similarly metaphysical shades?

We see various shots focussing on Aamir’s moustache-sporting rugged face (very much like a macho South Indian movie inspector) but this role is the antithesis of any superhuman ass-kicking or wise-cracking bravado. When his perpetually troubled eyes fill with a film of tears, and he manages to say "I’m very tired"- it is very easy to believe him. Like in "Dhobi Ghat", here too his act has been misunderstood to be too restrained. His role is complex - balancing the steely aggression of a cop, with the roiling regret of a personal tragedy, and being weighed down by a difficult case. Sometimes his mature tough visage has to portray all three of those facets at once, and Khan admirably meets the challenge.

This is a superb year for Kareena Kapoor . She was a tortured star in ’Heroine’ and here too she takes the dark cake. Alternating that slutty look with ravishing beauty, she imbues all her cool flirting and sultry perspective with a perpetual smile - it is a performance that cannot be faulted. Rani Mukherjee ,as Shreya, tops off her controlled performace with a scene of explosive intricate catharsis in which she issues a reality-check to her husband.

Delicate recondite details dot the film. In the scene which has the hustler Tehmur (Nawazuddin Siddiqui ticks all the boxes, but we expect meatier roles from him in the future) talking to a sex-worker Nirmala (played by Sheeba Chaddha) about long-term plans, the background plays the song 'Aankhon ki gustakiyaan' from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam which also featured the same actress. A day before even planning to see ’Talaash", I had no idea of this actress’s involvement in this film, ,and in a completely unbidden way that prior day, a scene from HDDCS flashed in my mind. In that scene,Chaddha’s newly married character returns dishevelled and livid from her conjugal house and seethes that she refuses to go on as a whore in her husband’s bed. Spooky co-incidence, don’t you think?!

K.U Mohanan’s cinematography is an undeniable asset. The early smooth take of that car - CGI notwithstanding - careening into the sea, the overall vibrant colour, confident clear frames, and slick captures like a rifle-sporting assassin finishing off his job at a carnival, all make this a sophisticated canvas to behold.

Ram Sapath’s songs which seek to combine redolent Indian melodies with modern riffs of instrumentation, find their finest expression in ’Jiya Lage Na’- which also does a splendid job of transporting the narrative forward. The other songs in the film need both the tunes and vocals to be more persuasive. Background score, while competent, should have jacked up the chills and thrills even more.

The Akhtar siblings Farhan and Zoya have collaborated on the screenplay - the result shows their refined touch and emotional chops. Another pezzonovante - Anurag Kashyap - has been recruited in the writing department, presumably to add gristle to the street-side talk.

Dialogue is acutely etched and mordant -when Rosie asks Surjan whether he will arrest her, he replies ’You’re already in hell, what worse place can I put you in?" Along the way, there is also a deftly put hint about the thorny matter of legalizing prostitution.

But the director makes two costly errors -when manoeuvring around the secrets of the mystery,she drops too many hints beforehand and thus weakens the impact of the twist when it is revealed. More care and cunningness should have been invested in preserving the illusion while it lasted. Secondly ,the post-twist denouement lapses into maudlin sentiment. You want the audience to leave with a spontaneous lump in their throats, and not with the lump shoved down their throats.

But as Hindi thrillers go, this one comfortably launches itself into the upper echelons. Aamir Khan ,super-star that he is, continues to outclass his hopeless peers by caring for quality rather than eyeing only money. I haven't seen Reema Kagti's directorial debut but in her second feature she has certainly shown that she has sufficient executive ability to rank as a good director. She now needs to display firmer discipline and a detail-driven vision that can make her exceptional.




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