There are few games where there’s a distinct, even a quaint charm in losing – one of those could be our constant tussle with a movie’s director. Especially if that movie involves a revelation of some sort, because then the movie most closely mirrors a hide and seek game; the director trying to be as evasive as he could get, and we, the audience, trying our best to be sleuth-like, snooping around, trying to get as close to the truth as we can. Because, in all fairness, we really do want to lose this game. And, we do know that if the director is skilled enough and sure of his chops, we would not be able to do anything about it. That then, the only thing left remaining would be to sit back and lose, and revel in the experience. But what does one do when the director does succeed in overpowering us, but eventually when we see eye to eye with his reason, we don’t want to dilate our eyelids in awe, but rather squirm. Because getting cheated can either lead to paramount resignation, mainly due to some very adept film-making, or grunts of disapproval, borne out of mediocre film-making that reeks of indolence. But it’s interesting when the film-making is both elevated and afflicted by the two aforementioned qualities. Where do you place the movie then? That movie here is Talaash.
On a usual, mundane night, Arman Kapoor’s (a movie star) car crashes out of the bridge and falls into the sea. The car drowns, and so does he. Although it looks like a freak accident, but its mechanics appears bizarre. Inspector Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) enters the scene to investigate: he’s a brooding, no-nonsense guy with plenty of his own problems. He could do with a sabbatical, instead he lands on to this case. One’s that not only mentally taxing, but also emotionally draining. After setting up the primal tension, Kagti then introduces us to the movie’s world. It’s populated by diverse, desperate characters: needy prostitutes, greedy pimps, people ready to mooch off anyone they can lay their hands on, people equally willing to be exploited. It’s an interesting spectrum: ranging from the city’s rarefied, plush cinestars, encompassing the city’s slaving, struggling working class to the city’s underbelly that’s not only pauper, but also singularly debauched. Kagti has a rich material at hand, and she knows how to expose it to the hilt to milk and maintain tension.
It’s sad to see how most thriller movies are bereft of an ambition. As if the only thing that matters to those movies is the revelation: both its concealment and portrayal. Thus in that case, the rest of the movie is largely shallow, characters’ motivation mainly perfunctory, passively waiting and solely existing for the movie’s most amplified moment. But Talaash doesn’t want to be one of those vacuous movies. It reaches out to its characters – its protagonist ruled and destroyed by guilt, this subject alone could have made for a very effective, gripping drama, outcasts sitting on fringes (Sashi, Temur), wanting to break out to the other end, the neglected, abused prostitute, the wandering, purposeless housewife. These characters make the movie a lot grounded, gives it a purpose beyond just finding who committed the crime.
Most thrillers have two distinct facets to them: the journey – the serrated, escalating tension while finding the killer and how it affects the characters around, and the destination – where one gets to know the reason enveloping the tension. And for a movie to work, it’s important that both these reasons ring true enough. Climax has the power to annihilate so many movies, but none more than thrillers. Because for thrillers, it’s the climax that’s both the cause and the reason for all things ensuing in the movie before, and thus it’s important that the climax not only not let the tension flag, but also be equally convincing, so we are rest assured that the entire experience wasn’t a sham. There have been movies which have been entirely ruined by their shoddy, ludicrous climaxes. David Fincher’s The Game, for its most part was a mighty well made movie, but its climax was so stretched and out of sync with the rest of the movie that it rendered the entire movie unworthy.
Kagti and Zoya Akhtar pretty much nail the first part of the movie, the screenplay is taut, stakes are substantial, and conflicts are meaty. So what happens at the end is not only difficult to stomach and fathom, but at the same time it’s disappointingly jarring, and so tonally inconsistent with the rest of the movie. The climax is so grotesque that it borders on being comical, and it undoes all the hard work done by the writers and the director until that point. It’s akin to watching two different movies, one made with a lot of assurance and self-belief, while the other is so unhinged and pointless that all the emotional investment till that point not only seems unnecessary, but also extraneous. You can admire the beautiful facade of a building but what do you do when it’s constructed on a ground that is fundamentally weak. The building will topple invariably. It has to. The same happens with this movie.
It’s not uncommon to encounter movies where the film-makers themselves don’t understand the gravity and potential of subject they are dealing with and hence treat their movies with such levity that it becomes a celebration of their own ineptness. You know who’s the real killer in Talaash? The movie’s writers: Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar. It hurts to know that someone who was responsible for a deeply personal, nuanced Luck By Chance, and earnestly flawed, but still perceptive Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara would have anything to do with a piece of work that can at best be called lazy, and silly.
Why, of late, has it become a crime to expect a half-decent, cerebral Bollywood movie? Why has this film industry become such a cesspool of mediocrity that it can’t produce more than 5 original, decent movies a year? The answer obviously lies within, but how many film-makers are willing to stand up and question themselves. Surprisingly, and sadly, I think I know the answer to that question.