I wanted to take some time out after watching Meghna Gulzar and Vishal Bharadwaj’s Talvar earlier today before I write about it, just to consolidate my thoughts. Now, we all are very well acquainted with the Aarushi Talwar double murder case of 2008 which is still ongoing. Her parents are still in jail and fighting for innocence largely due to a botched up crime scene and lack of factual evidence. If anyone has not heard about it, it is might as well suggested to take the subscription of latest newspaper daily with immediate effect, or alternately, just open your eyes and ears to the world.
This case, for sure, is a surefire idea to make a film on. But it is also a very sensitive and astronomically difficult to not let your judgement affect your film to present a tainted picture of the whole. Moreover, one is susceptible to play to the gallery to evoke emotion out of its audience and run the cliches of corrupted judicial and investigative system or media. Albeit, it is very hard to tell a document of the case with a meek social commentary without letting it slip into a documentary format. Vishal Bharadwaj (writer) and Meghna Gulzar (director) manage to just do that, yet in an entertaining fictionalized fashion where facts and incidents are not thrown at your face. Their latest outing, Talvar, is a gem of a film that is resplendent of excellent artistry in all of its facets.
Shruti Tandon, 14, is murdered under dubious circumstances one night in Noida without her parents, Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) and Nutan (Konkona Sen Sharma) waking up to it in the next room. The first round of doubt goes towards their house servant, Khempal, who is nowhere to be found. Very soon, Khempal is found dead on the terrace and the parents become the prime suspects. The police frame the parents and before the Central Dept of Investigation steps in, all the crime scene evidences are either ignored or collected in a haphazard fashion. Over many years, the CDI does two contradicting reports on the whole investigation, the first one being led by Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) leading to no proper conclusion and an eventual chargesheet against the parents, even after CDI petitions to close the case. Many suspects are taken into custody and released eventually with the final ones being the parents who are still in prison. The reason I have laid out the plot of Talvar is because there is so much more fun in exploring it once you know the basics. The real story itself has many more befuddling layers which will leave you juxtaposed with wonderment as to what really happened that night and who is the real culprit?
Vishal Bharadwaj’s screenplay explores the double murder case through the eyes of the investigative agency and its officers, along with the police. The first part is the investigation through police, the second through Ashwin and and his associates, the third through Mr Paul (Atul Kumar) who turns the first committee’s report upside down and the last one in court, led by ACP Vedant (Sohum Shah). Just like the classic film, Rashomon, Talvar presents alternate versions of the case as narrated or imagined by various people involved with it trying to put a finger on the guilty but removing it just before touching it. In totality, Bharadwaj and Meghna do manage to be unbiased and still come up with a riveting thriller that haunts you long after it has ended. My small issues with the film include minimal exploration of the parents angle. I really wanted to see their life before and after Shruti and their want for justice, if there was one. I also wanted to see more about the motives behind the crimes in each version, apart from the slightly rushed up finale. But there is only so much you can do in a runtime of 132 odd minutes and the writer-director do give us a classic skillfully handled climax round table confrontation between the two teams of CDI. Not to mention, that while they go about their serious stuff, they dare not forget the quirks and induce quite a few chuckles amidst a housefull of audience. A hat tip to both of them for writing such a plot heavy film, so much so that there is little scope for character development or the pensive moments.
The framework of Talvar would not have been complete without the excellent casting by Honey Trehan. Each and every lead and supporting actor is cast with a thought and chooses to shine in this very film. Whether it is Prakash Belwadi as Swamy, Ashwin’s retiring boss, or Gajraj Rao as Inspector Dhaniram or Shishir Sharma as the new CDI chief, they all make a mark and how. Neeraj Kabi and Konkona display the pain of loss without any effort and one wants to see more of them. Sumit Gulati as Kanhaiya is pitch-perfect while Tabu makes an effective cameo as Ashwin’s wife who still loves him but wants a divorce. A special mention for the stunning Sohum Shah who once again takes up a supporting role but makes it look convincing like it was his second nature. When his ACP Vedant switches sides, you totally buy him. Once again, the film does belong to Irrfan Khan as it is told from his perspective largely. And once again, Irrfan manages to bring out a different side of himself. For an investigative officer who plays a video game on his mobile phone while the deceased’s parent cries his heart out to him, his struggle for the justice he believes in is nerve-chilling. He along with, Atul Kumar, together in the climax scene give you one of the best 5-7 minutes ever scene in Hindi cinema lately.
Produced by Junglee Pictures, a TOI group company, and Vishal Bharadwaj Pictures, Talvar has all the backing it needs. Pankaj Kumar’s camera sets in the urgency you crave for in an edge-of-the-seat whodunnit and is aided by Shajith Koyeri’s menacing sound design. Sreekar Prasad’s editing is top-notch packing in a lot of stuff in a meagre runtime. Vishal’s music is suitable with no song barging into your senses and still providing you a reflection of the times. But it is the casting, writing and direction that make the film work big time, in that order, if we ignore the stellar performances.
Surprisingly, Talvar has relatively fewer shows than it should I feel. Mostly, due to the other biggie Singh is Bliing eating into all its screens and a Hollywood big film also coming the same weekend. Yet, I went for a 11:30AM show today and it was house full. The distributors, AA Films, should really consider increasing the number of shows, from Monday, if not from tomorrow itself. Talvar is one of the best films to come out of Bollywood in the recent times, and despite its minor flaws, it has all ingredients of being a classic. Surprisingly, another film, Rahasya, starring Kay Kay Menon came out earlier this year on the same double murder case but it almost went unnoticed. While Rahasya was a good attempt, I liked Talvar a lot more. Meghna Gulzar has come a long way from making those films she was.
I see absolutely no reason why you should miss Talvar. It is content driven cinema at its best, and the round of claps once the film ends will realize the ticket price for you.
Rating – 4/5