Director: Meghna Gulzar
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Neeraj Kabi
Rating: 3.5 stars
Having a compelling subject in hand is an ideal situation for any filmmaker. But for the makers of Talvar, which is a thinly veiled retelling of the investigation process of the 2008 Noida double murder case, it could well have been a hurdle. Here is a bunch of people, some of the best brains in the industry, trying to make a film on a murder case that has had an overwhelming amount of media coverage. And if that weren’t enough, a film made on the same subject released earlier this year and ran for over three months in theatres. Not to mention author Avirook Sen’s recently released book Aarushi that is now a bestseller. So then, in a sea of compelling material on one’s chosen subject, how to still keep things relevant and engaging for the viewers? That’s the question Talvar answers.
Director Meghna Gulzar and writer-producer Vishal Bhardwaj had an abundance of material to work with. It is commendable how they refrained from getting carried away by the sensational reportage. Their research has clearly gone beyond reading through reams of press coverage as the duo takes us behind closed doors, straight into the process followed by the powers that be to reach to a conclusion, well-informed or otherwise. We are presented with three versions of the investigative process followed by the three teams — the Uttar Pradesh police department followed by two subsequent teams of the CDI, the Central Department of Investigation. There is no partisan approach, only a clinical retelling of the entire process, without even a hint of drama. What we get is a story that keeps you engaged even though there is hardly any detail that you already don’t know of if you have closely followed the case.
After watching the film one might feel tempted to say that if the officers had even a fraction of the clinical approach to the case as Meghna displays in the film, we’d have a case as clear as night and day, instead of being thrust into what seems like an eternally twilight zone now. But of course, that was a different time and place. One of the best parts of the film is how the same scene is shot from three different perspectives in order to highlight the three investigation theories. And it is so cleverly done, that in each version you spot the loopholes as the opponent teams point them out. Vishal Bhardwaj’s screenplay is pacy and peppered with his signature wit. Talvar scores in the sheer wealth of performances from literally everyone in the cast, be it principle or peripheral. Irrfan Khan as CDI officer Ashwin Kumar is top of the order, followed by Neeraj Kabi and Konkona who play the parents Ramesh and Nutan Tandon (not Talwar). The actors had to strike a balance between seeming guilty and stone cold. They had to be shrouded in ambiguity and Kabi and Konkona do the needful. Irrfan displays many shades — commanding, vulnerable, exasperated and also a romantic, thanks to his tiny parallel love story with Tabu, who plays his estranged wife in the film. Their track has no connection with the core plot, but such is Meghna’s craft that it never intrudes into the storytelling to become a distraction.
Gajraj Rao as the UP police officer Dhaniraam is superlative. Atul Kumar who plays the second CDI investigative officer Paul saab has some of the best lines and delivers a gem of a performance in archaic Hindi — you must watch the film just know how dharam prachar avastha translates in English. Sohum Shah as Vedant, the slimy junior investigative officer is impressive too. The second line of supporting cast, which includes the maid, the servant’s friends, the doctors, the forensic experts — all of them are spot on.
Even though the story revolves around just that one core scene of the murder (or murders) not once does it seem repetitive or monotonous.Talvar lays the facts on the table, clears many question marks the sensational media reports had no answer to. There are few fleeting moments towards the end when it seems the scales of sympathy might be tipping in favour of the (now behind bars) parents, and that could be the only weak link in the film, after all the ruthless objectivity displayed thus far. But that doesn’t, even for a second, take away from the fact that the makers have given us a film that is as sharp as its title. Whether or not you have followed the real case, this reel retelling is definitely worth your while.