Review: Talaash is a mild-goose chase

Make no mistake, Talaash is a Vikram Bhatt film.

Which isn’t to say Bhatt actually made it (though he or Mohit Suri or Pooja Bhatt may well have at some point, who dare keep count) but that it has a story built on the exact same pulpy foundations. Just yank out the invariably catchy Pritam soundtrack, replace Emraan Hashmi or Randeep Hooda with Aamir Khan and throw in major heroines where Vishesh Films would have cast unfamiliar models. (The only key character in Talaash who isn’t a top actor is, actually, the one who plays a top actor.)

To give credit where due, director Reema Kagti and her crew show significant flair in terms of creating atmosphere. Cinematographer Mohanan has always dealt strikingly well with shadows and darkness, and the film emerges as a fine looking mood-piece. It’s a somber, well-assembled film in contrast to the quick and flashy schlock that would have been doled out by the aforementioned merchants of middlebrow masala, and while the film’s craft — and the acting chops shared by its considerable cast — can’t at all be denied, it must also be said that perhaps the trashier approach may have worked better for this material. Or, at the very least, made for more fun.

Allow me to make my case, then, without once discussing the film’s plot. No spoilers here, folks.

There are a few essentials for a police procedural film, all rather basic: either the crime should be a stupefying one, one which raises many a “how in the world” question and flummoxes audience and investigator; or the suspects should be interesting and complex, those whose motivations become clearer only when the film gets less murky; or the investigator himself should be a compelling protagonist, someone who makes you either care about himself or the case, ideally rooting for his success. And if all else fails, then it should be thrilling enough to hide the lack of the above.

Alas, Talaash ticks none of these boxes. It starts off well, but simmers far too long before it gets to the boil. The case — of an actor driving off the highway and into the sea — is only marginally intriguing since the police never really explore its mechanics, and the suspects it throws up mostly insignificant.  The cop Aamir plays from behind a Hulk Hogan moustache is doggedly dour, frequently unreasonable, and a really bad husband. Not the sort of man you want to celebrate, no. And, as said, the film gets more than a bit long in the tooth, hinging on a final twist that isn’t too hard to see coming.

Which is all dashed exasperating, considering just how good this film could have been. It’s great to look at, with brilliantly art-directed frames bursting with detail. The music’s good, even if the songs sometimes interrupt the narrative when playing on too long. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Raj Kumar Yadav are routinely excellent, Siddiqui effortlessly stealing most of the film. There are some deftly edited intercuts, most situated from the cop’s point of view, effectively flashing back and forth within the realms of past and possibility. Aamir is as stoic as his character needs him to be, Rani Mukherji is plaintive but wasted, and much of the film’s verve comes from Kareena Kapoor’s streetwalker, who, like Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman in the most recent Batman movie, thankfully doesn’t ever seem to take the film or its clunky lines seriously.

And my lord, what lines. Even in good scenes, the dialogues jar, sounding either b-movie or trite or incredibly textbook. Given the film’s unhurried pace, this often makes it play out like an old telefilm. Khan mouths the word “talaash” with promo-cutting heft, characters spell things out unbearably simply, and in a film about drowned people, lines like “dard mein doobe…” are used with great intent and disappointingly little irony. Indeed, the film is awash with obvious metaphor. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

There is one good, true line about cheesecake, though.

It is also a film trying to be subtle while drawing attention to just how subtle its trying to be. To wit: a frazzled Shernaz Patel accosts Aamir on the street, grabbing his arm, something that confounds the indignant policeman, and this simple moment is broken down into her touching him, him looking at her, him looking pointedly at her hand on his arm, him stiffening, then reacting. A brothel-controlling Madam talks tough, but repeatedly backs down whenever glared at. Pimps meticulously change their SIM cards at the first sign of trouble but bigger fish use their personal cellphones for monkey business.

Ah, and odd visual cues: a big poster from the awful film Showgirls proudly displayed in the red-light area, advertising actual showgirls. Um, okay. A yellow rubber slipper floating by itself in the water — meant to be an evocative memory, but probably nightmarish to fashionable women simply because it’s a Croc.

Am I being too cruel? Perhaps, but because of the wasted opportunity. Someone asked me if Talaash was a watchable film, and indeed it is. It’s better put together than a lot of the films we see here, and definitely strongly acted, but ends up so, so much less enjoyable than it deserved to be. In the end, I didn’t care about the case or the characters: not cop, wife, pimp, kid or hooker — ah, I might as well pick the dead actor who kicked the whole story off; at least the poor guy had an Eraserhead poster in his room.

Rating: 2.5 stars

~

First published Rediff.com, November 30, 2012

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Review: Talaash is a mild-goose chase

  1. Nice review. Still planning to watch it although hoping that the spoilers I saw by mistake on the annoying Mr Kamaal R Khan’s Twitter feed are not all true.

  2. Gaurav

    For the first time I like your review Mr Sen. I stopped reading your reviews after you reviewed 3 Idiots.
    Talking about Talaash, well I still remember the time when Aamir sighned this film. I was really excited (especially, since I am big Aamir fan). But the only thing that disturbed me was the fact that this is a Reema Kagti movie (plz dont tell me Mr Raja that you liked HoneyMoon Travels Pvt Ltd). I was in a lot of dilemma that why the hell did Aamir sign a Reema K movie. But I believed in Aamir and alas he poved himself wrong.
    Thanks to Aamir for underpromoting this film. I now feel that he was aware how the film has come out and I think the news about his tiff with Ms Kagti was not wrong.
    Ms Kagti, please stop writing or better start reading and visiting places. There are many more interesting untold story that you can work on. Its better not to waste our time and Mr Khan’s too who has other good work to do.
    I am sad to watch this movie.

  3. Palash

    I’m baffled by the critics’ rave response to this film, and even more aghast at their use of detestable language like “the first half is gripping” or “the first hour clearly is a winner”. Don’t we need to see the film as a whole (climax and the end included)? Are the critics too afraid to challenge Kagti’s annoying indulgence as to introduce the completely outrageous supernatural twist (which, given the mood of the rest of the film, is nothing but a cheat). The conclusion, the ending of a film is as important as the rest of the film. It defines, sums up your intention behind it. It is what you take away home, and if its a cheat, I don’t know how could you hail it as the best film of the year (great, what about Shanghai then).
    Good job Mr.Sen, kudos.

  4. Swechcha

    You’d really rate a “JTHJ” higher than a Talaash? It’s unfair to give something a lower rating because you had higher expectations from it.

  5. ram

    The movie is slow and the concept of Ghost Kareena as the murderer concept is not really suspense. copied from numerous movie. specially 6th sense where ghost doesnt know she is ghost

  6. rgolwalkar

    Now there are 2 angles to it.
    1) Talaash might start a trend with stories involving supernatural angle to it.
    2) Aamir Khan in the movie technically does less or no investigation – any one who saw the movie would know this now.
    3) I am not saying it is a bad movie – but it had tremendous potential and in a way it was not utilized.
    4) Often we are witnessing the struggle of Suri’s past rather than the case.
    Aamir Khan again made a remark – it was not intended for all – i say – well then who was it intended for.
    However i do think all leads were brilliant and in the age -where movies like Rowdy Rathore – housefull 2 and i Ready rule (i won’t be surprised if a movie like Khiladi 786) – i think it was a nice change – though Kahaani was definitely better.
    Again a good review – may be little harsh – but that’s alright :) – i look forward to your site for reviews.

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