Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Nov 30, 2012, 01:15 PM IST
The Shekhawats (Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji), it appears, have just moved into a new apartment in a police housing colony. A chilly, old-ish neighbour (Shernaz Patel), who’s otherwise not known to this family, knocks at their door, pretends to be helpful, demands tea, walks around in the house, spots a framed photograph of a young boy lying among a pile of unopened boxes, and quietly or eerily calls out the kid’s name, “Hello, Karan.” This boy, about 8 years old, the Shekhawats’ only child, is already dead. We don’t know this yet. It’s a random afternoon in an early scene from this film. The old woman can call spirits and speak to the dead. You can immediately tell the movie is trying to mess with your head. It manages, to some extent.
What this parallel sub-plot of a depressed, distant mature couple who’ve lost their only child does more laudably to the film instead, is lend it some genuine weight and legs to stand on. The deep pain of parents having to bury their own son is hard to explain. Such wounds never quite heal, they threaten to destroy the living forever. Neither the husband nor wife has come to terms with the loss. This tragedy runs deep throughout the film. The wife falls for the old lady’s hocus-pocus. The husband doesn’t.
It’s easy to get cynical about thrillers more so as this one, which bears a tinge of the super-natural. Most such movies come without an emotional base, and if the basic set-up doesn’t quite pay off, there is always the danger of a lot of them turning into pure tosh. Talaash, at its core, is a murder mystery. Aamir plays an aam aadmi, or at least as much of an ordinary man as a cop in high-handedly policed cities like Bombay can be.
He is tersely under-stated, fairly polite in conversations, but reasonably firm. Gently avoiding cop clichés, the film tells us nothing about his famed bravado, besides faintly suggesting that he is in fact an accomplished investigator. The high-profile case before him concerns a top film-star whose car had oddly swerved right into the ocean in the wee hours of a morning. The popular actor’s body was found inside the car. The only connection between this murder mystery and Inspector Shekhwat’s own son’s death is that they were both drowning cases.
During the course of the investigation, the cop comes across odd creatures of the city’s seedy night-life -- prominent among them is a physically challenged side-kick of a whore-house manager, who’s rightly named after the Turk hero Timur the lame (the excellent Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Driving at night, the lonely insomniac cop also regularly bumps into a fairly well-kept and elegantly turned out prostitute (Kareena Kapoor) who willingly offers him cryptic clues to solve the curious case. The said ‘talaash’ or the search, if you must know, is on for the whore house manager to whom the film-star had possibly passed on precious wads of cash before dying. You often bear in mind that motives behind all crimes, as for what makes the world spin in general, is either money or sex.
The film’s tonally dark and grim. Besides a few hummable songs, the background score is minimalistic. Edgier dialogue, by way of both humour and crisp gyan, could enliven a quiet movie like this – sadly that remains a weak link. Aamir’s own intense role is closer in character to Dhobi Ghat, and diametrically opposite to his part in 3 Idiots.
The narrative is still calm yet riveting enough that for a moment I forgot I was watching the film at a half-packed press preview in a regular theatre. Only at the interval did I realise, like everyone else, I was surrounded by a crowd, most of them still murmuring and chatting away about how they knew Aamir was the murderer: “Yeah, I got that SMS too. Of course, I know...” There cannot be a better and more organic promotion for a film than a curiosity over its plot. This film meets that end of its promise quite well.
Still, movies that hinge on a single vital secret can head straight to the highway if there’s nothing more to them besides who’s the killer. Usually that’s not true for skilful mysteries or suspense thrillers. Agatha Christie’s Murder Of Richard Ackroyd is as much a pleasurable read even if you knew the narrator was the murderer, and M Night Shyamalan’s historic The Sixth Sense is in fact more fun to watch all over again just to spot clues that point towards the little boy being the one who can see dead people!
So is Aamir’s character, Kareena’s, Rani’s, Nawaz’s or someone else’s the killer? There is one way to find out, and it would matter only if you’re interested at all to sit around until the end. The film is intensely gripping, good enough for you to wait it out. At this point, that is all that we need to know; and head to the theatre, of course.