A predisposed cop with a gruff backstory, his grieving wife, a half-sneering prostitute and a limping go-fer in a red light area weld a taught, though minimalistic, story of compounding shades and overlapping genres in Talaash.
A film actor (Vivan Bhatena) splashes off to death on the secluded Haji Ali route at 4 am in the morning. The case lands with Surjan (Aamir Khan), a quick-witted cop whose terrible moustaches and perpetually crotchety eye brows come off more authoritarian than any firearms in the movie.
As it happens, the mystery is loopy and without leads. Every 10 minutes a parallel story tracks find themselves highlighted more often than they should.
Now any other day, this would have been disastrous. This isn’t one of those days.
A lot of Talaash, is well, about “Talaash” (i.e. search) – as Surjan tells us, two of three times in the movie; apparently he – or the film’s dialogue writers, Farhan Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap – feel the urge to remind us what movie we’re watching.
But regardless of this little nip – and the film’s consistently flaring background score, which those of us with keen hearings cannot mute out – Talaash is pretty perceptive, if a tad genre-prone, venture from second time director and co-writer Reema Kagti.
Kagti’s and Zoya Akhtar’s screenplay mostly shuns away the film’s original plot-thread and indulges in character personalization for a hefty bulk of Talaash’s 139 minute running time. And while Kagti’s straight-shooting direction works well to accommodate subplots of personal trauma, human connectivity, flight, blackmail — and lest I forget clairvoyance — the juggling slowly develops into a minor divergence; one itching to grow into annoyance. And then, it doesn’t.
The save is as miraculous as it is uneventful — and somehow, given the enough leeway between Talaash’s moody and distant opening on Mumbai’s red light district and the sorrowful half-meandering bond between Khan’s Surjan and Kareena Kapoor’s prostitute Rosie in a hotel room, a subjective connection finds itself ripened with the audience.
It is never clear what Rosie’s agenda is when she appears late in the film’s first act. Is she a friend or foe? Or simply a whimsy street walker we wonder? Her reserved seductiveness, though effortless with shrewdly all-knowing glances at Surjan, is perhaps an oft-played card that will clue-in the more cinephiles of us long before the mystery actually uncorks as it did with Kahaani, earlier this year.
Nevertheless, for routine Bollywood, this is a slightly sketchy whodunit spectacle with borderline-Oscar worthy performances by Khan, Kapoor and especially Rani Mukerji — especially after her last solo-(mis)adventure Aaiyaa.
Mukerji plays Surjan’s grief-stricken wife, pining for emotional rescue less for herself than for Surjan. The couple, once happily a set of three, lost their pre-teen boy in a lake-side accident. The scar, prudently shown in a brilliant flashback scene, rots festering on Surjan, and he in turn relentlessly pursues Talaash’s mystery, or aimlessly ponders away most of the film’s outdoor night scenes.
Still, watching Khan at work in his character is an experience-and-a-half.
The actor, though confined by limitations, is a master of self-discipline. While the Amir Khan-charisma may be enough to drive the audience for Talaash’s first-rate opening weekend— it is Surjan who keeps us wrangled in a stranglehold.