Cast: Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Director: Reema Kagti
Runtime: 139 min.
Verdict: Mostly workmanlike as an exercise in narration, but its interests lie elsewhere – in wanting to raise a few tired conventions to their thematic extremes.
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Notwithstanding Mr. Khan’s penchant for expressing his art via the layout of his facial hair, that thick moustache, proudly walking all the way up to the chin, is probably the most defiant symbol of patriarchal control in this world here. Control that the “alpha” male, or otherwise, needs almost more than anything else, and the breakdown of which leads to very bad case of overcompensation via Man’s Guilt. It is considerably easier to feel guilt than to feel helpless, i.e. impotent, and as gently as Ms. Kidman breaks the nature of that illusion to Mr. Cruise’s egomaniacal masculinity in Days of Thunder, Ms. Kagti here causes something of a therapy session masquerading as diegesis, which in turn, it could be said, is masquerading as redemption. I mean, the opportunity to salvage someone’s life. As you would be aware, dear reader, that I’m not a big fan of sentimentalizing a city and all that fluff, and Talaash here seems to present Mumbai as some sort of illusionary shit-hole, a microcosm of urban life (eye roll, obviously), that people need to be saved from. It makes people selfish, do “bad” things, and it tries to offer these battered and bruised souls a chance to redeem themselves before they meet their maker. Moments of grace, if you might want to call it that.
Now, Ms. Kagti is no great storyteller nor is she an especially ingenious one, but what she does here in Talaash is to use a set of fairly tired conventions to cause some sort of gender statement. Some comparisons ought to be had with Dhobi Ghat here, and Talaash, one could claim, is essentially a hyperlink film masquerading as a single character’s journey. The initial set-up and the coda might even fool one into assuming that this is the good old-fashioned star-celebrating (an individual over a whole group, Dabangg, Rowdy Rathore and every film that celebrates a hero) tale of a cop who has lost his son and is investigating a homicide. Truth be told, I prefer the way the film is, trying to be a hyperlink individualistic piece within the confines of a hero-piece, and the sophomoric literary dexterity with which Ms. Kagti tries to mix and almost dissolves (chuckle) two mostly archetypal tragedies – one the loss of a son and two the accident of an actor – is sort of cute. I mean, water everywhere, and tears begging to come out but being prevented by the patriarch’s sense of guilt over what he feels is a momentary lapse in control, and then finding himself utterly helpless at the very bottom of the sea only to bring him to admit that being responsible and being guilty might not be the same thing after all.
In many ways, it is like the exact antithesis of a Raj Khosla film, of schemers undone by lost souls, of not one but a tale of many living in their little cocoons running behind illusions trying to control their little worlds, and when Mr. Siddiqui (Timur) limps and jumps and escapes for the second time this year carrying a blue bag, momentarily making us doubt his intentions (film noir), Talaash sort of leaps genres and becomes some sort of tragedy. We meet Timur for the first time when he knocks on his mentor’s home, and as the door opens, there’s a woman who wakes up on the bed in the corner. There’s something about her casual demeanor that inspires the kind of emotions in a lonely man which might have led Kevin Spacey’s Joe in Se7en to desire a wife. He limps around in the film with that desire to call some woman his own, and in Talaash, where the notion of a helpless feminine in this land of male-desire-driven rules is systematically revealed to be merely an illusion, where the illusions themselves are essentially feminine in their nature, he becomes as much of a helpless man lost in the middle of nowhere as the protagonist, Srujan (Mr. Khan). They got to be some sort of brothers, one overtly masculine, one a crippled weakling, and yet weakened by their desire to be the male-in-control in the eyes of their women. One running away from it, and one running towards it. The limp desires to be a hero of some sort, and the other cannot reconcile with the fact that his heroism has been rendered near impotent in the eyes of his wife. Not that this is what the wife believes, but we’re looking at the male perspective here, and Srujan needs to conquer some territory and establish an area of control. I’m reminded of Scottie, again a detective, and the desire to control an illusion. Which here happens to be a hooker by the name of Rosie (Ms. Kapoor, horribly dressed and quite garishly colored). Not the film is anywhere near acceptable on the skill level as far as creating an image of desire, but Ms. Kagti’s point does get conveyed across. Apart from a couple of deftly handled conversations, Ms. Kagti’s film is essentially workmanlike, and most times it works more on a sub-textual level than the textual level.
But where it did win me over was the manner in which it mirrors the desire to control an illusion with the classic narrative trope of the awesome detective. A seemingly unsolvable case is what is presented, not with a great deal of finesse I might add, almost hammering the point home, and a cop/detective much in the vein of a Sherlock Holmes, who would amaze us all with his sense of reason and observation, and hence provide a sense of control over the seemingly uncontrollable and hence inexplicable. Talaash is not interested in using its narrative twists as some sort of trump card, and as someone who is fairly proud of his ability to observe conversations, I was under the impression it gave its game (intentionally or unintentionally is debatable) fairly early, or at least definitely towards the halfway mark. What it is more interested is in upsetting that traditional patriarchal order of things, of a man, of a detective, of a world that is feminine and does accept its lack of control, and although I respect the manner in which the film goes about its objective, my version of achieving might have involved something more along the lines of a Zodiac.So yeah, even though I believe someone like Mr. Randeep Hooda would’ve knocked the Inspector’s overtly masculine behavior out of the park, I do abide by this iteration of Mr. Khan’s facial hair. Alright, consider that moustache a deconstruction of the ones in Dabangg and Rowdy Rathore. And I absolutely abide by what the film considers it final image, of the patriarch sitting in front of a river and submitting himself into the arms of his wife. It is a tough thing, to perform like a man all the time, and sometimes it is absolutely fine to be a kid all over again, desiring the motherly embrace. It is a plea for help, an admission of one’s weakness, and I believe it is the film’s own way of not merely bringing the various elements of its narrative full circle, but providing some sort of therapy. There is some grace there if you ask me.