Talaash (2012): Still Searching (For a good title)

Written by  //  December 3, 2012  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  1 Comment

(This has spoilers only if you assume that there’s anything to be spoilt in the first place. I think there isn’t.)

I left the theatre having watched Talaash with the overwhelming sense of having been cheated. This is perhaps a backhanded testament to how good the movie is for three-quarters of its duration. It starts as a gripping whodunit, has some unexpected twists and turns, seamlessly straddles two seemingly parallel storylines without a semblance of discordance and sets itself up beautifully for a grandstand finale. Except that the finale, was not the bang than I expected, nor was it a conciliatory whimper. It was more like a fart. A long, stinky, nauseating fart that you don’t believe possible till you are forcibly made to witness it. Little surprise then that at the culmination of a movie that had gripped and moved me in equal measure, any virtues it had accumulated paled into a malodorous, fart-induced feeling of having been cheated out of a particularly happy evening.

My reactions to Talaash are stronger than most other movies solely because of the starkness of the contrast between its flawed and bizarre culmination and its sophisticated and gripping build-up. Till the interval, the movie for me was a blink-and-you-miss-it thriller. It wasn’t mind-numbingly fast, in fact it was delightfully slow. The pace constructed a certain intimacy with which the scenes could be carefully created, characters could come into their own and relationships portrayed. The most telling representative of the pace was the haunting, soulful and eerily appropriate soundtrack by Ram Sampath which, by itself, shaped the ebb and flow of the first half. Particularly Muskaaney Jhoothi Hai revealed more about the characters and the plot than any dialogue sequence could.

The depictions too were frighteningly real. Characters weren’t caricatured in black-and-white, most of them were very attractive greys. The persecuted servant-beggar persecuted who dreams of a shot of fame and filling his master’s shoes; the elderly prostitute taunted by her peers and clients who is resigned to her fate, yet wants her freedom, the subordinate police officer, diligent yet voyeuristic all make the movie look and feel real, depicting, what could be a snapshot of modern-day Kamathipura and its quotidian ways. As real, is the marriage between policeman and homemaker, wrecked by the untimely death of their son and the different ways in which they mourn their loss, poignantly accentuated by restrained and pithy dialogues and overt silences. What makes this reality most believable is unsurprisingly the wonderful acting by the lead and supporting actors. All of them, without exception, play their part to perfection.

But I’m writing this piece to bury Talaash not to praise it.

Despite all its virtues, Talaash fails woefully as a movie by using a fantastic super-natural plot device as the common strand to bring its parts together. While the use of the super-natural is a fairly common occurrence in movies, in Talaash, it was problematic at two levels. First, the movie not only used the super-natural, it unquestioningly affirmed its reality. A fundamental premise that the lead actor prominently questions through the movie is the possibility of communicating with spirits, which seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate line of inquiry. By the end of the movie, not only is he left mincing his own words (in fact he’s crying because he was so badly wrong), we, the audience are left with a firm and dogmatic directorial assertion that the super-natural exists, the testament to which is Talaash, the two-and-a-half hour long movie which we just were witness to, whose every post-interval move was shaped by a super-natural guiding light. This retrograde social message, affirming belief in the irrational, that such a movie, starring the leading lights of Hindi cinema sends out, is in itself is reason enough to dislike the movie. Especially for Aamir Khan, fresh from Satyameva Jayate to be seen endorsing such a backward and superstitious message by choosing to be part of this enterprise, is gut-wrenchingly disappointing.

But it’s just a movie, I hear you say. And that’s where the super-natural element in Talaash, or should I say, the super-natural periodic table, given its all-pervasiveness, fails at the second level. In Talaash, the way it had been set up, with taut storylines, pithy dialogues and real suspense, the super-natural twist at the end that provides a post facto explanation for the entire movie is a massive cop-out. It’s a cop-out to square loose ends by introducing an all-powerful apparition that can go around crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s wherever they need crossing and dotting. And that too is perfectly acceptable in several movies where the super-natural element is put to good use. But most such movies are mostly meaningless, badly directed, non-serious capers. And Talaash, was just not set up as one of those. It was a real movie, with real characters, real situations, moral dilemmas, depression accompanied by snatches of happiness, an overwhelming sense of loss, friendships, rivalries, relationships, in fact it was the microcosm of what it meant to be human. A humanity which was irreversibly spoilt with silly super-naturalism of an extraordinary variety.

It’s easy for a script-writer to find a ghostly, other-worldly explanation to a real murder mystery. But because it’s so easy, it’s also inelegant, dissatisfying and a profound testament to his lack of intellectual ability.  Imagine how short-changed you’d feel if in Murder on the Orient Express, Ratchett/ Cassetti was not killed by each of his fellow passengers but by an all-powerful crow which flew into his compartment through his open train window and pecked him to death. That’s how I felt after Talaash, a movie that its makers ruined as dextrously as they had made it.

About the Author

Arghya is currently doing the doctorate in law at the University of Oxford. Dithering between academia and litigation for a future career but sanguine in Oxford with his current researcher status.

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