An Jo’s Talaash review
The first shot of TALAASH after the credits roll is like a portent to the world of dark intrigue that co-writers Reema Kagti (RK) and Zoya Akhtar (ZA) wish to suck us into; a world where the probable and improbable talk to us permeated through the moody atmospherics of a neon-lit Bombay. On one seemingly innocuous night, a howling street dog, and two junkies lost in their own world stare at the full moon vigorously attracting sea-waves while a car driving down over an acceptable speed limit swerves and crashes into the sea. From this nocturnal scene to the last scene which is set in broad daylight ashore a lake, the film and hence the lead’s life comes a full circle, with Aamir Khan’s (AK) cop-character of Surjan Singh finally coming to terms with the possible improbabilities of life within and outside his world.
When considered within the mainly non-experimental forts that the Hindi film industry’s major star-actors enjoy being ensconced in, that AK invests both artistically and economically in this dark world of a couple fighting their inner demons is quite a welcome irony. Surjan Singh is a police officer who is investigating the ‘accident’ of a film-star in the afore-mentioned car accident. Apart from his professional necessity of investigating the case, he also has to deal with the accidental drowning of his son in a lake for which he considers himself responsible to the fullest extent. While he turns an insomniac and immerses himself in investigating the film-star’s death as a coping mechanism, his wife Roshni (Rani Mukherjee (RM)) develops her own way of dealing with their son’s death by believing a neighbor Mrs. Frenny (Shernaz Patel, wonderfully quirky) who promises Roshni ‘weird’ ways of coming to terms with the death of her son. The film, then, is a manifestation of how two seemingly distinct narratives of the personal life of Surjan and his professional findings converge and finally lead to a catharsis for Surjan specifically.
It is this journey then that is the main take-away here and not necessarily the destination or even the ideas/sights that one meets at the destination. In fact, the revelation at the denouement might come across—relatively— a dampener when compared to the other movies (read Hollywood) that have tackled such a theme many times before. RK succeeds in leaving quite an impact when it comes to characterizations and the Bombay night-life atmospherics. The latter, mainly, gel quite seamlessly into the inner turmoil of the lead couple. Throughout, RK and ZA prep up the narrative with wonderfully etched characters that depict as much as they hide. As Devrath Kulkarni, Suraj’s subordinate, Raj Kumar Yadav is quite effective and so is the actress playing the escort Nirmala. But the one non-lead actor that stands as a wonderful humanization of Bombay’s slimy night life is Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s (NS) Tehmur. He terrifically portrays the dichotomy of being selfless when being selfish; while he doesn’t let his conscience speak when he lets the pimps drag his ‘anointed’ sister away, he does let the love of his life Nirmala walk away with moolah even at the cost of life. His introductory scene with Surjan is a hoot when he mentions he is a hunger-driven beggar by profession albeit carrying a mobile phone! His physical ailment of being a cripple never-ever overtakes his wide-eyed portrayal of a man desperate to get out of his forced environs and this fact speaks volumes for his talent. The thrust of the film, however, is laid on Kareena Kapoor’s (KK) character of Rosie, an escort who takes an interest in the film-star’s murder/accident case and keeps aiding Surjan with clues. As a golden-hearted escort, she is portrayed as someone quite oddly fitting in her environs. Her attire, make-up, and dialogue delivery are quite at odds with her forced profession and rightly so contextually. She comes across quite brightly-lit when compared to her co-workers’ dark environs. Aided by such ‘accoutrements,’ KK’s Rosie does an apt justice to the director/writer’s ‘vision’ of her. She shines especially in her nightly conversations with AK on the sea-shore to which he somehow keeps getting drawn to.
The camera is almost a character in the movie. RK’s Bombay is seedy, not dirty. And cinematographer Mohanan adeptly lenses the movie, making the neon-lit streets and the gently crashing waves talk as much as the characters. RK’s another accomplishment is the placement of songs. They are smartly fit in the right places. The picturisation of ‘Naa Tu Jaane’ and ‘Laakh Duniya Kahe’ are truly wondrous-fits in the narrative contextually. Encapsulating an escape sequence in a song is definitely an unexpected and wonderful achievement.
This is a relentless film when it comes to sticking to the theme. There are absolutely no light moments in the movie. It is a claustrophobic atmosphere replete with dark alleys of the human mind. Even the seemingly bright scenes—couple’s ‘happy’ memories with their kid—ultimately serve as a harsh precursor to the current depressive states of mind. Coming to the performances, AK’s Surjan strikingly comes across as a single-note depiction, but rightly so. He has an implosive guilt-ridden angst in him and that is all that he is supposed to be in the entire proceedings until his cathartic healing at the end. It is a nicely-etched, restrained performance from him. Even in scenes where he could be forgiven for breaking loose (scenes with the escort madam; with Shernaz Patel), there is an effective display of pulling back. RK as a deglamorized house-wife is quite effectively low-key in her portrayal of a grieving mother and house-wife.
That RK displays quite a rise—and innovation— in her craft-quotient in this sophomoric venture is evident in TALAASH. The scene where an insomniac AK keeps thinking of ‘what-could-have- been’ before his son dies or the way she shows the back-story with AK crying away and driving are wonderfully shot. She avoids many clichés that come with this genre. There is not a single moment where a ‘revelation’ is thrust at the audience aided by hammering back-ground or gimmicky photography. Dialogues, however, could have been more potent if it were the other way round – with Anurag Kashyap being the main dialogue-writer and Farhan Akhtar the ‘additional’ dialogue writer. In terms of editing, while the first-half is taut, the second half, for a very few minutes, does seem a little stretched.
If anything, this movie does again add testimony to the fact that Aamir Khan has a cinematic-knack for engrossing story-telling and scripts. It is difficult to imagine any other actor in mainstream Hindi film industry that takes on a dark noir as a sort of ‘come-back’ after a big-screen hiatus. (In fact, this movie is almost the equivalent of those Hollywood movies of this genre that have longer DVD-shelf life than box-office.) That he not only acted but also produced only underscores this fact. Whether or not the movie rakes in the moolah is arguably disputable, that it will go on to age quite healthily is almost a certainty. Unless something ‘A-final’ happens, that is.
P.S: Try to stay back till the end-credits roll-over.