'It is a very uncomfortable film to watch, and that is what makes it so good. A good film should be able to get into our skin, challenge us, shake us up and Talvar does all of that.'
Aseem Chhabra reviews Meghna Gulzar's film on the Aarushi murder case, the first of our reviews on arguably the most controversial movie of the year.
We human beings are a strange lot. Most of us cannot live without our neighbours or outside the society. And yet we cannot hide our sense of glee when the society around us crumbles, our neighbours are shamed.
We appear shocked, stunned when horrible things happen to people like us and yet we want to know all the gossip-laced details. There is also relief that bad luck passed by our door, but went and parked itself outside our neighbour's home.
Meghna Gulzar's riveting and extremely disturbing Talvar is a reminder that while we are essentially a race of good people, we are also flawed people. In exploring the Aarushi Talwar murder case (in the film the family name has been changed to Tandon with Aarushi becoming Shruti), Gulzar working with a tightly woven script by Vishal Bhardwaj, informs us that it is easy for us to blame the incompetent police, the investigators, the media, the bureaucrats and the politicians.
But Gulzar and Bhardwaj are also looking at each one of us who consumed the gory details about the double murder of 14-year-old Aarushi and her family's domestic help -- 45-year-old Hemraj Banjade.
No, we did not kill Aarushi and Hemraj, but we have to take our share of the blame. Horrible things were done to Aarushi and Hemraj -- at the time of their deaths and later when the murders were tried in the media and the courtrooms. As members of society we allowed a lot of horrible things to happen.
In making Talvar, Gulzar and Bhardwaj are telling us that we are all guilty!
Talvar is a very well made film -- despite its length and some brief scenes that could have been edited out. But it is also a very uncomfortable film to watch, and that is what makes it so good. A good film should be able to get into our skin, challenge us, shake us up and Talvar does all of that.
The details about Aarushi and Hemraj's killings in Noida are known to most people in India. It was the most talked about double murder case until a few weeks ago when Sheena Bora's murder story broke out, much to the delight of the broadcast media and each one of us who could not seem to get enough of the salacious reports. And the like the Talwar-Banjade killings, Bora's murder and the scandal surrounding it also happened to people like us.
But even when we know about the Aarushi and Hemraj killings, Gulzar grabs our attention -- focusing on a couple of possibilities. Each time a different scenario of the murders is examined, Shruti and Hemraj are killed one more time before our eyes. And in each Rashomon-like situation a new 'truth' seems to emerge.
Gulzar and Bhardwaj go about methodically developing the police procedural without making any judgments or actually solving the murders. Solving the crime is beyond their expertise and in any case, that is not the purpose of the film.
It has been eight years since Gulzar made her last film -- one of the segments in Dus Kahaniyaan. She was perhaps busy with personal life, but that break has made her into a damn good director. Working with superb lead actors and an excellent supporting cast -- many who get the chance to shine, Gulzar has created a remarkable ensemble piece of drama.
A lot of fingers point towards Shruti's parents -- Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) and Nupur (Konkana Sensharma). Kabi and Sensharma are both seasoned actors. Here, they balance the acts of playing the wrongly accused as well as grieving parents. It is tough task for them, more so because many in the audience will visit the film with their own baggage and the belief that they know the identity of the killers.
Watching Kabi and Sensharma one cannot conclusively say that Shruti (or Aarushi)'s parents could be guilty.
Talvar's central core is Irrfan Khan's performance where he plays one of the most complex and nuanced roles of his career. There are many shades to Khan's CBI Inspector Ashwin Kumar that it is so rewarding to watch this gem of an actor display his skills. And by the look of it, Khan seems to have really enjoyed playing Kumar.
There is a side plot in the film that gives us Khan's back-story -- his troubled marriage to Tabu. Irrfan Khan and Tabu together are a dream cast. Bhardwaj has worked with them twice, including in last year's Haider and in Talvar he even gets to tip his hat to the director's father Sampooran Singh Kalra aka Gulzar's 1987 film Ijaazat and its iconic song Mera Kuch Samaan.
All of this indulgence can be fine, but it also feels like a diversion and it makes Talvar a tad bit long. Khan's Kumar stands tall despite this back story.
The advantage of working with Bhardwaj (he is also one of the film's producers) is that he can contribute his multi-faceted talents to the project. So as expected, Talvar's music is composed by Bhardwaj adding to the dark texture of the film. And as a package deal we also get to hear Rekha Bhardwaj's rich melodious voice singing the film's closing song Zinda.