Cast: Irrfan Khan, Konkana Sen, Neeraj Kabi, Soham Shah
Director: Meghna Gulzar
A double murder in NCR region. Among the deceased is a 14-year-old girl and a 45-year-old domestic help. Father suspected of honour killing, arrested but later released as the needle of suspicion shifts elsewhere. New suspects are grilled and charged for murder. Though there’s one problem as investigating this double murder are too many cooks. So, after many flip flops, the other suspects are freed, while the prime suspects are tried again and jailed for the murder of their daughter and domestic help.
In a nutshell, that’s how one would describe the infamous 2008 Noida double murder where Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj were allegedly killed by Rajesh Talwar with Mrs.Talwar allegedly covering up her husband’s crime. Well, after a fiver legal grind, involving various theories and conspiracies, the Noida double murder case gradually began to lose public interest, with most observers left wondering,
“Whodunit? Did a ghost kill Aarushi and Hemraj?”
Given the nature of the crime and the media coverage, it was apparent that Bollywood dug its teeth deep into this sensational story. At the start of the year, we had Manish Gupta’s Rahasya that was loosely inspired by this case, albeit the director took it to a different tangent. Eight months later, we have noted poet and lyricist Gulzar’s daughter Meghna giving us a more realistic and a balanced account of the infamous tragedy through her flick Talvar.
Now, Gulzar scores a point even before the film begins with a crafty and apt title ‘Talvar’ (pun intended). Then there’s a picture of Justitia (Lady Justice) to keep the prying eyes of the legal eagles away.
To most of us, the image of Lady Justice is one who holds the scales of justice, but often we often fail to see the lowered sword in her other hand. In a way, this murder case bears resemblance to Lady Justitia, as until now, we’ve only seen, read about this case through the overzealous eyes of the media.
Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar helps us to slay the ghostly myths and reaffirm the long held belief that there’s more to this film, or should one say there’s more to this Talvar than it meets eye.
Whilst the murder theories are well documented, what takes a viewer by surprise is how inefficiency, personal grudges, one-one-upmanship of law enforcers completely ridicules and turn a tragedy into a tamasha.
CDI detective Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) is assigned the case after the inefficient police present a weak case against the accused Ramesh Tandon (Neeraj Kabi). Kumar’s logical and scientific approach leads to a possible different angle to the murders but a bureaucratic change at the helm turns this investigation upside down.
Director Meghna Gulzar does remarkably well to harp more on the multiple and dubious games surrounding the investigation, which clearly leaves both the case and the viewers in a limbo.
There’s nothing much to rave about Gulzar’s previous works (Filhaal, Just Married, Dus Kahaniyaan), so Vishal Bhardwaj picking her did raise a few brows, but all doubts turn to adulation for the young director who has succeeded in giving a realistic and balanced account of the tragedy.
History is replete with Bollywood directors losing the plot by needless sensationalising, exaggerating of the real plot. Gulzar scores heavily here as she keeps her composure and refrains from any triviality or dramatising. Unlike the whipping up of alleged illegitimate affairs between the deceased and the accused by the media, Gulzar does well to showcase these aspects in a sensitive manner.
What powers Talvar is brilliant writing and screenplay by Vishal Bhardwaj, who evidently has done extensive research on the subject. So, while Gulzar successfully wields the Talvar, this sword has Vishal Bhardwaj’s inscription all over it. The astute director has provided all the right ingredients, while Gulzar has managed to cook a fine dish.
The real stars of the film though have to be its star cast. Each actor seemed destined for their respective roles. Irrfan Khan yet again underlines why he’s considered amongst the finest actors of India. In an industry which often stereotypes detectives with cool pants, six-pack abs and guns, Aswhin Kumar (Irrfan) uses logic and science as his weapons. With eyes sharp as sword, Irrfan keeps you on the edge throughout the film. And Ashwin Kumar is not all about work. His fractious relationship with his wife (Tabu) provides for some sweet and sour moments to an otherwise serious subject. Despite a minuscule role, it must been have been too hard for Tabu to turn down this film.
The last time one saw Neeraj Kabi, he was slicing human flesh like tomatoes, wielding the katana (Japanese sword) as the hideous Dr. Guha in Detective Byomkesh Bakshi. Unfortunately, that didn’t cut ice with many but ironically, he’s now impersonating a Talwar in Talvar. As Ramesh Tandon, Kabi is required to display extreme reactions given the various theories associated with the murder of his daughter Shruti and domestic help Khempal. And Kabi exhibits these emotions with aplomb.
Konkana Sen, who plays Ramesh Tandon’s wife Nutan, has a dazed look all throughout her the film. Her expressionless (perhaps remorseless) face reminiscent of Nupur Talwar. You would have wished to see bit more of the talented actress, especially since she ‘s been doing very few films.
As well as Irrfan, Najeeb and Konkana performed, the real ones to look out for are the unheralded names who play the character of Kanhaiya and Vijay, the two friends of Khempal, who allegedly were present on the tragic night of May 15. What a shame it is that their names aren’t listed on the film’s cast on prestigious portals. Wonder whether the film-makers feared disclosing their names would invite uncalled trouble for the duo.
The gentleman who plays Kanhaiya, displays exemplary skills whilst enacting a narco analysis text. It makes you wonder whether he was really drugged for the scene. The lad also puts up a brave face while being interrogated by Kumar.
The other young man to lout for for this chap who plays Vijay, the sole surviving witness (supposedly) to the alleged crime. Frail and tiny, Vijay’s bears the look of a petrified man who gets roughed by Ashwin Kumar during interrogation.
The others actors who leave an impression are Soham Shah, who plays the opportunist ACP Vedant Mishra, Prakash Belwadi and Gajraj Rao, who played the inefficient cop Inspector Dhaniram, the man who botched up the case from its onset.
It’s very important to fit the right people in the right roles and both Vishal Bhardwaj and Meghna Gulzar have picked horses for courses. These actors may never become big-ticket stars but,with Talvar, they’ve given a performance of a lifetime.
If one has to sum Talvar in journalistic parlance, then it is a film where a journalist has kept the emotions aside and presented all sides to a story. Sadly, Meghna Gulzar leaves you stunned in the dying minutes of the film with scenes that make you think whether the journalist has let emotions get the better of her by empathising with the convict. Clearly, there was more story to be covered than where Gulzar chose to end her film.
It’s unfortunate that the only major flaw of Talvar comes at the fag end and it’s a flaw that not only raises question marks over the judicial verdict, but it might yet again raise the dreaded query –
“Whodunit? Did a ghost kill Aarushi and Hemraj?