Saturday, December 1, 2012

Talaash: The Brief 100% Spoiler-Free Review!

Talaash is not groundbreaking cinema nor is it going to change anybody’s life. Watching Talaash is like watching a world class athlete at the top of her game - a Mary Kom, if you will - the beauty of the film is in the skill and craftsmanship on display. The feeling I was left with after Talaash was not the giddy joy of seeing an underdog outperform expectations or the shock of seeing something novel but a deep satisfaction at seeing a lot of talented people come together to create something beautiful.

Harkening back to the moody Ashok Kumar noir films of the 1950s, Talaash begins with the mysterious death of film star Armaan Kapoor and we follow police inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) as he tries to unravel the plot threads that will lead him to the truth. He meets a mysterious randi (Kareena Kapoor) named Rosie, who drops tantalizing hints about the case, and wanders the streets with her late at night. Meanwhile, at home, Suri faces trouble with his wife Roshni (Rani Mukherjee), who is troubled by his absence.

First, the performances. Aamir is Aamir, naturally, but it is wonderful to see Rani and Kareena really sink their teeth into some meaty material. The two leading ladies command your attention whenever they are in the frame and proved yet again that if they had scripts worth their time and efforts, they could easily join Vidya Balan in the solo heroine film club. Bebo layers a real sadness under the theatrical and coquettish behavior of a woman paid to seduce and Rani completely disappears into Roshni, showing us a woman struggling just to live day-to-day. The other two standouts among the cast were man-of-the-moment Nawazuddin Siddiqui as lame errand boy Tehmur and Sheeba Chaddha as aging randi Nirmala. Sheeba, especially, leaves a strong impression - she tells Nirmala's entire life story with just her eyes.

Although Aamir is the hero and protagonist of the film, every single female character was treated with dignity and respect. It is the rare film that has a man talking to a randi as if she is a real person and not just A Tragic Figure or Object of Derision. The red light district depicted in Talaash isn’t anything we haven’t seen before but we get a fresh and unbiased look at the inhabitants. As Armaan Kapoor’s death shows us at the beginning, the red light district will always be tied to those with riches and power and if anybody gets painted as wicked, it’s those who exploit the less fortunate for their own pleasure. But for anybody wary of seeing yet another film in the mode of Madhur “Female Exploitation King” Bhandarkar, be assured that Talaash is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The last point I think I can touch on without spoiling anything is the style of the film. Talaash isn’t one of those “Hindies” (I gag every time I have to type that abomination of a word) like Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, it falls firmly under the traditional umbrella of Hindi cinema. The songs aren’t lip-synced but they are an integral part of the storytelling, the acting style is much more Eastern than Western, and there is a strong sense of the mystical or spiritual permeating the entire film. In other words, the heart of the film is far closer to Dadamoni’s Kismet than to LA Confidential.

It's another strong effort from director-writer Reema Kagti, co-writer Zoya Akhtar, and Excel Entertainment and if this is the new direction of Bollywood, I, for one, welcome it.

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