Talaash: A Second Opinion

Written by  //  December 9, 2012  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  10 Comments



Hell hath no fury like a moviegoer baited into watching a film genre he/she wasn’t expecting. If you buy a ticket for what you think is going to be a sappy romcom, it had better be a goddamn sappy romcom. The verdict on Talaash is in: a meditative murder mystery film ruined by an ending that belonged in a different genre.  According to some unwritten rule of movie making, you can’t put ghosts in a murder mystery because that’s just cheating.

I am reminded of the utter fury people expressed when Sweeney Todd, which purported to be a gory film about a murderous barber who ate people, also had songs in it. Now nobody said that the film didn’t have the blood and gore it promised; what they objected to was the songs, which, according to some other unwritten rule is incompatible with gore. How could the film-makers DO that to them? The audacity!

Now there is no doubt that there are many films that are deliberately mismarketed because studio executives realized that pretending that a movie belongs to a more profitable genre has box office benefits and I can understand why some feel all cut up about this.  When you’ve had a terrible day at work and just want a sexy assassin to unleash a sexy hailstorm of bullets upon all who stand in his way and instead, you get George Clooney being all pouty and introspective about his sad assassin life… well, that’s just inconsiderate.  Several perfectly good movies end up doing badly because of this trailer manipulation and moviegoers feeling too cheated to buy more tickets, I guess.  That said, mismarketed films do not deserve the hate they get.  Oh sure, you may not get what you were expecting, but does it really matter if the end product is quality stuff?

In any case, there’s such a world of difference between these mismarketed movies and Talaash. Yes, I am one of the few who actually enjoyed the film, ending and all. Talaash‘s murder mystery trailer was no sinister trick by the marketing department to dupe an unsuspecting movie audience, but was a crucial part of the plot.  Really, there was no way they could’ve possibly sold this as a supernatural film without defeating the entire purpose.

Yes yes, but it’s such a cop out to say “Ghosts did it!” I hear you say.  The whole point of a murder mystery is to give the audience a chance to guess who the killer might be.  I’d agree with you if the supernatural twist came out of left field and was a complete deus ex machina, but it wasn’t. There were more than enough clues that many astute movie watchers caught (no, I’m not one of them, I connected the dots far too late) and the twist ending wasn’t even the best part of the film. That came after the movie, when I sat in the car with a friend and we went over every scene of the movie and thought, “Ohhh, now it all makes sense!” Categorizing a film as ‘horror/thriller’ immediately makes people expect things like creepy music, howling dogs or lonely roads and they’re such overused motifs that they have lost their element of surprise.  On the other hand, put them in a murder mystery genre film, with a typical emotionally damaged cop  and your skin gets all goosebumpy without your realizing it.

And it all fit in beautifully. Not an element was out of place.  Oh sure, some might say that the whole supernatural stuff could’ve been more subtle and Sixth Sense-y but that’s just quibbling.  Talaash had a great plot, fantastic characters that mingled the ‘action’ elements so well with the dramatic.  Another solid victory in Talaash‘s pocket was its depiction of Bombay.  We’ve had a rash of artistically gritty films off late that have raised the bar so high for painting Bombay’s seedy underbelly of pimps and prostitutes that Talaash could have easily looked derivative. Wry humour and the complete lack of preachiness (and that super creepy undertone) set this film apart.

If I had a complaint, it would be that Rani Mukherji’s character did not get as much development as the others.  She was rather one-dimensional, despite her best efforts to do more with the script. Which is why Talaash deserves a sequel but this time, Aamir Khan knows that ghosts exist and has to pursue the paranormal clues as well.  They can bring the plot forward by killing off Rani Mukherji… at the hand of Frenny… who turns out to be a big ol’ fraud… and is desperately in love with Aamir.  This stuff is writing itself!

On a side note, it is entirely possible that I enjoyed this film thoroughly because I watched it from the comfort of a La-Z-Boy recliner with a warm blanket because you know how cold movie halls can get. Arghya, you might want to try it too: you’ll find that most movies are fragrant when your seat has a button to summon a waiter.

10 Comments on "Talaash: A Second Opinion"

  1. Anisha December 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm ·

    Haha, great read, as ever. Though, I did watch the awful Gangs of Wasseypur (part 2; I really liked part 1) on said Lazy Boy and let me tell you, it is extremely uncomfortable to sit up in indignation on a reclining seat.

    Re Talaash: I agree with you (and disagree with Arghya) that there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the insertion of supernatural characters into a film of any genre (Ghost, The Others, Casper). I liked a lot of Talaash – the isolation of a couple trying to deal with the death of a child, the view of a seedy mafia and prostitution underworld, and a dishy Aamir Khan (got to say, I love the ‘tache).

    What I didn’t like, though, was the blatant signposting of the supernatural elements. Is it just quibbling to ask for a little suspense in a murder mystery? That the central character could be dead occurred to me during the intermission (after watching a couple of the legendary films mentioned here, I’ve resorted to running through a mental checklist of Who Could Be Dead during every suspense film). Then the second half became a long drag. To add insult to injury, they didn’t just shout “Gotcha”, either: at the very end they insisted on jabbing every damned signpost in your eye – saw that? and that? and that? – with the enthusiasm of a particularly smarmy 11 year old. YES I DID. NOW STOP YOU LITTLE SHIT.

    A little more respect would have been nice.

  2. Arghya December 10, 2012 at 12:40 am ·

    Wonderfully written of course but you equally wonderfully under-state my objection. It’s not about inserting ghosts in a murder mystery which is an objection about mixing genres. It’s about ghosts in THIS murder mystery which is an objection about poorly thought-out script-writing. It’s also about a dogmatic assertion of the existence of ghosts, which is not a product of this being a ghost story as much a product of the protagonist believing at the end that spirits do indeed exist, which is a fundamental objection about the movie’s message.

    Unlike Anisha, I don’t watch movies, suspense or otherwise, guessing the movie’s next move. So when the twists did happen, I was most certainly crying out for respect, not because they were explaining everything, which seems like missing the woods for the trees, and also entirely necessary given that the average Indian movie-goer isn’t as smart, quick or well-versed in sixth sensy movies as Anisha is. But rather hoping that they had some self-respect and didn’t write such terrible crap and hope for it to pass off as cinema, super-natural or murder mystery.

    But clearly they’ve done a decent enough job if they’ve managed to dupe one of the pair of the finest movie reviewers in India, or anywhere (they are without borders of course) I know!

  3. Aamir December 10, 2012 at 12:40 am ·

    Someone directed me to this site… Must say I enjoyed reading many articles… and this was particularly funny! I don’t know who the gentleman is but the last line, ‘you’ll find that most movies are fragrant when your seat has a button to summon a waiter’ was just superlative…

    Respect your views on the film you set of criticaltwenties!

  4. Bleh December 10, 2012 at 3:21 am ·

    Arre yaar! It is just a movie. You do know it isn’t real.. Even if they make an assertion that ghosts are real that doesn’t make it true. You are basically pissing all over every movie which does that!

    I am sorry some movies which do that are pretty neat..


  5. Lekha December 10, 2012 at 9:15 am ·

    Anisha, that was my first thought as well but it would’ve been extremely dishonest of me to have said that because I caught on WELL after the interval and that too, because somebody suggested it to me! I was so sure that Aamir Khan’s kid had become a disturbed aatma to get revenge on his dad and was responsible for the car accident. So let’s not overestimate the intelligence of some members of the audience 🙂

    Arghya, I’m sure this film wasn’t meant to be a documentary! Just the way Peter Jackson isn’t insisting that Rivendell exists, I’m sure Aamir isn’t asserting that ghosts exist. Talaash obeys the rules of its universe and that’s the only test, as far as RWB is concerned!

  6. Mihira Sood December 11, 2012 at 8:16 am ·

    Ladies are also capable of superlative writing Aamir! Such as the author of this post 😉

  7. Tejaswi December 11, 2012 at 8:58 am ·

    You should visit Lekha’s movie review blog.

  8. Harsh December 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm ·

    I felt much of this film is about redemption, forgiving yourself and the loneliness that one feels in the city of Bombay. The fact that the protagonist is a rational man, a cop, played by a popular actor who does not do this genre of films mostly is an icing on the cake as he constantly throws the audience in the wrong direction as far as the plot is concerned. We do not have the believe in the ending, the fact that the protagonist believed what happened in the end is a wonderful achievement of storytelling.

  9. Arghya December 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm ·

    I think the storytellers Harsh, needed a Plan B, and more than a little help from their friends.

  10. Danish Sheikh December 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm ·

    The more I think about this movie, the more I dislike it. It just felt so hollow and uninspired … the “twist” was wearyingly inevitable, and too much of the movie was built around it, leading up to it, etc. There were stray good performances, and I completely agree with Lekha on its atmospherics but really, if a supernatural mystery thriller can manage to come off as uninspired and lethargic … someone’s messed up majorly.

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