If you are contemplating watching Talaash as a challenge to your inner Sherlock Holmes or Karamchand, forget it. If, however, you want to watch this Aamir Khan thriller to suss out the IQ of the writers, i.e. story and screenplay writers Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar, then, yes, please go ahead. I could, however, save you some money and tell you that their collective IQ adds up to a two-digit number in the early thirties.
Talaash starts off rather well, with a lot of style and promise. But it’s a thriller gone loony.
Director Reema Kagti’s film is set in Mumbai by night and opens with hip club music that moves at a dreamy, horny pace, shadowing the slo-mo sulfurous visuals. It’s a glitzy, sleazy world of prostitutes, pimps and customers in taxis. It’s a world that smiles only to reveal desperate, fiendish cracks.
This aesthetic grittiness is shattered by a bizarre accident. Film star Armaan Kapoor (Vivan Bhatena) drives his car into the sea and dies. His family is distraught, especially wife Sonia and his bachpan ka dost Sanjay Kejriwal. The high-profile case is assigned to Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) who arrives like a star must, to merry clapping. The applause is provided by a junior cop, Shekhawat’s assistant on the case, Devrath (Raj Kumar Yadav). Mouthing lines written by Farhan Akhtar which were given a once-over by Anurag Kashyap, Devrath says: “Bahut suna hai sir aapke bare mein. Maza aayega aapke saath kaam karke.” Coming as it does from a few-films-old FTII-trained actor Raj Kumar Yadav for Bollywood’s top star, the compliment establishes the hierarchy, in case you were wondering.
Shekhawat, we must believe, is a brilliant cop, though what impresses us most as he gets working on the case is his mild sense of humour. Perhaps that’s because nothing adds up in the case. Armaan Kapoor was not drunk, there was no obstruction on the road. The only reason for Armaan to take that sharp right turn would be to dive into the sea. But why would he do that?
A junior cop tells Shekhawat that many “strange” accidents have taken place at the same spot, and that this too is one of those cases. It’ll remain unsolved. Shekhawat’s brows twitch in anger.
Some answers to the accident, it seems, lie in Mumbai’s claustrophobic gallis lined with cramped, stuffy rooms. We visit one such room where a pimp, Shashi, is getting jittery because he met Armaan just before the accident. Listening in on his conversation with his girlfriend is Temur (like the Turk king, this Temur limps too). In this gritty world, Temur (Nawazuddin Siddique) is the most curious piece of grit. He is the lowest, most dispensable piece in the pecking order. The “langdi aulad of a r**di”, a la Tungrus from Mandi, he runs errands and, when he can, picks up snatches of conversation, Shashi’s old SIM card…
Now, slowly, nicely, each character begins to unravel, with each one taking a twist every time we meet them. Inspector Shekhawat and his wife Roshni (Rani Mukerji) are dodging an issue that’s consuming their lives, their relationship. They barely talk to each other. Shekhawat sends Roshni to a psychiatrist and himself drives around town at night. Soon he lands in that part of town, looking for Shashi. Instead he finds Rosy (Kareena Kapoor). We’ve met her before, reflection first, as one of Shashi’s top girls.
Roshni, meanwhile, meets Frenny Mistry (Shernaz Patel), a creepy neighbour who looks through Roshni’s stuff, pick up her son Karan’s photo and caresses it. Soon Roshni and Frenny are playing Planchette where Frenny channels Karan’s spirit to communicate with his mother. He wants to talk to his da-da, but Shekhawat is busy talking to the ethereal Rosy who is strangely untouched by the grime and crassness around her. On her bed, his demons disappear. He would like to return the favour, but she has unfinished business. So the best he can do is listen to her dukh-dard about India’s “illegal and invisible” prostitutes who don’t matter to anyone.
In between some serious flirting, Rosy provides leads — bodies start popping up and the script starts pointing at who may be responsible for all this and your inner voice starts screaming, “No! Surely Ekta Kapoor didn’t steal the screenplay? Surely she’s too busy sorting out her own chudail ladies.”
Apparently she’s not so busy, and may have indeed stolen the screenplay.
If that’s not the case then the blame for this juvenile, almost asinine, resolution to a perfectly decent thriller lies with Bollywood’s in-bred brigade.
Bollywood’s baba log are all awfully cute and glamorous and fun, but their experience is awfully limited. They grow up with mommy’s and daddy’s Bollywood friends and their worldview and points of reference are limited to Bollywood. This is especially true of Farah Khan, brother Sajid Khan, and their cousins Zoya and Farhan Akhtar. All their life’s experiences, their highs and lows, are drawn from this world — they pay homage to other Bollywood films, their politics is sweetly apolitical, hence banal, and their notions of brilliance and modernity are stale American ideas.
This is conjecture drawn from their collective body of work: Most of it is self-referential in a reverential sort of way. So Talaash has the cripple from Shaan and other such, but mostly it reeks of The Sixth Sense, Shutter Island. But Talaash is to The Sixth Sense what a Pallika Bazar-bought bottle of Koko Karnal is to Coco Chanel. I was impressed and then duly disappointed.
Talaash has, at least to begin with, an attentive, funny and even clever screenplay. It also has some really interesting scenes, one special one involving the brilliant Raj Kumar Yadav, enchanting camera work, especially during the song sequences, but it is a film born out of very limited intelligence. It is Mumbai noir in a completely superficial sense — neon signs, empty roads, insomniac hero. There’s little angst and the good and bad stand apart in this very moral world. Add to this the worst kind of anti-climax, one that insults you as a viewer and leaves you with a pile of unanswered questions.
The film is held together mostly by the power of its actors. Aamir plays it straight, shunning melodrama except in one silly, teary scene. Rani Mukerji is so sexy and effective that she doesn’t need dialogue. Her eyes are expressive enough. According to the Chinese calendar, 2012 is the year of the dragon, but according to the Bollywood calendar this was the year of Nawazuddin Siddique. And this film recaps why.
Kareena Kapoor’s Pathani complexion and robust demeanour are captivating, but she can’t help but play the diva. She says “saab” to Shekhawat and then follows it with, “Tumhara case kaisa chal raha hai?” It’s forward, familiar and out of character. But then, Bollywood’s baba log need to hear the applause, feel their star-power, however simulated.