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Sunday, December 16, 2012

(Published in The Friday Times, on December 14, 2012, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta3/tft/article.php?issue=20121214&page=21)



Cast: Aamir Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukerji, Rajkumar Yadav, Shernaz Patel
Director: Reema Kagti
Rating: 2 stars
Aamir Khan has come a long way since he danced around trees, cuddling Juhi Chawla under the guises of a singer, snake charmer, pauper, and papa’s employee. Now, he’s India’s own Oprah Winfrey, ranting against corruption, crying with the masses, and making money, with his show Satyamev Jayate (“Truth alone triumphs”). Naturally, his activism has permeated the porous border television shares with Bollywood. So, to watch him star in an illogical film gets us somewhat nostalgic. It also leaves those of us who fancied him, when we were shorter than he, somewhat embarrassed. Talaash is one of those films.
I suppose the talaash in Talaash has more levels than the obvious murder-or-suicide mystery. Or so Inspector Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) would figure, to the fawning admiration of his underlings. It’s about finding inner peace, coming to terms with one’s past, one’s guilt, and so on. It’s about being open to possibilities, whether it’s the creepy psychic neighbour or the friendly neighbourhood ghost that helps you.
Now, here’s the problem. When Bollywood sets out to get “inspired” by The Sixth Sense, it usually ends up making something like theRaaz series. Since this film stars Aamir Khan, it carries more pretensions of intellectuality than its counterparts. The three stars of the film cling to their memories of loved ones, and so does the supporting cast.
Inspector Shekhawat relives the most terrible moment of his life, when his drowsiness has a tragic outcome. So, guess what, he doesn’t sleep – like, ever. Roshni Shekhawat (Rani Mukerji) stops decorating her walls and wearing jeans after tragedy hits her home. So, she tries to make sarees look as sexy as she can – now, let’s grant her that, she’s lost some weight. Rosie (Kareena Kapoor) is a hooker, whose miserable past involves a girl from her brothel, who went missing with three rich boys. Let’s all take a minute to rage against the perversities of society that condemn young girls to the streets – again.
Big-city noir has been overdone in both literature and cinema, and it’s particularly painful when the biggest surprise the film offers is that the insipid dialogue was penned by Farhan Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap. The movie is scattered with red herrings, and inevitably, the filmmakers forget about most of those. The songs are all mournful laments in mellow lighting. Despite the cinematography being flawless in terms of technique, it lacks in imagination.
The film itself is longer than it need be, and tends to highlight the moments that would have worked better if they had been understated. When estranged partners glance at each other, their spirit selves waft into a tight hug. After The Big Reveal at the end, we see a playback of critical scenes that should have served as clues.
The reason the movie turns out to be so disappointing is that it shows so much promise at times. There are lines that are truly funny, and the comedy is that of everyday irony. But those are undone by staples and set pieces. Take this: When the “madam” of a brothel refuses to cooperate, Shekhawat threatens to shut her shop. She sulks, and does his bidding. No superior interferes with Shekhawat’s work, except to play shrink. That makes you wonder how much research the filmmakers put into examining the dynamic between the cops, the underworld, and the sex trade.
Though Aamir Khan features in nearly every frame, we don’t get much of a sense of his character. In contrast, the smaller roles are played wonderfully. Rajkumar Yadav as Shekhawat’s loyal second-in-command shows us his calibre through a small scene, where he witnesses a domestic argument, and repeats a single line. Sheeba Chaddha, playing an ageing prostitute, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, playing an errand-boy with big dreams, get us thinking about the place of love, trust, and ambition, in a setting that’s too cynical for dreams.
That makes us wonder why filmmakers consign people who can actually act to bit roles, and bring in a bevy of stars for the major ones. While this may be Kareena Kapoor’s best performance yet, I find it hard to believe commercial sex workers can afford the clothes and makeup she wears, or that they catwalk and speak the way she does.
Talaash has already broken a bunch of box office records, and will rake in more money. The producers will pat themselves on their backs, and the filmmakers will walk away with an award or two. If it had had a couple of gimmicky twists less, it may have made a good whodunit, and its success deserved. But, nothing quite justifies the end, which makes a mockery of all intelligence.

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