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Cinema || Talvar (Deconstructing the Filicide)

Bollywood has seldom shied away from condescendingly portraying the nation’s lawkeepers on screen. It has often managed to strike that particular nail by introducing a glaring exception to the ‘rule’, a protagonist who is often a larger than life superhero figure with the will and the ability to cause an upheaval in the law enforcing departments.

However, seldom has Bollywood ventured to take a popular criminal investigation in consideration to script a distressingly faithful account sans the imposed sensations of artless cop shows, or filmmaking attempting to mimic the juicier version of the breaking news on news peddling networks.

The Aarushi Talwar case had managed to arrest the attention of the National Capital Territory and the entire nation as the whodunit got deconstructed in the chat rooms of news channels and household dinner tables alike. By the time the case attracted the tag of ‘honour killing’ on top of the befuddling murder mystery, the country had all but zeroed in on the parents to be the killers of the 14 year old daughter of the Noida dentist couple.

A court did vindicate said ‘perception’ in 2013 on predominantly circumstantial evidences (pending appeal). Talvar, directed by Meghna Gulzar and written & produced by the mighty Vishal Bhardwaj, attempts to retrace the steps of the crime and the ensuing investigation with painstaking attention to detail and Rashomon-esque multiple versions of the crime to create something that may not be perfect, but certainly a first in the history of popular Indian cinema.

Talvar imagines the respective scenarios that could have taken place on the night of the murder, while unabashedly detailing the investigation that if rife with misplaced evidences, authoritarian red-tape and a criminal lack of forensic acumen, essentially ripping a hole into the pride that the nation’s investigation bureaus tend to command by default.

A commendable work of art is meant to create opinions and spark debates – something Talvar managed to do by putting the very lifestyle of the upper echelon of the emerging Indian society in question. It manages to tell the side of the story that went principally unsaid in the banana courts of the larger reporting media. The film’s success is clearly marked by the fact that it has rekindled the interest of the forgetful masses in the double murder by showcasing, as faithfully as possible, the events that occurred following the crime and methodology of the theories arrived at by the various investigative agencies.

The shade of ‘bias’, however, coming through in the fabric of the narrative is not only restricted to a overall sense of incredulity attached to the theory of filicide in an urban colony of India, it is also apparent to the lead casting of Irrfan Khan as Arun Kumar the (representing CBI officer Arun Kumar) who believed in the parents’ innocence. His investigation and theory it had been which indicated that it had been a drunken conspiracy of a group of domestic helps that led to the double murder involving Aarushi Talwar and the Talwars’ servant Hemraj Banjade, and not the ‘wrath’ of the Talwars themselves, who, according to a version, killed the duo after catching their underage daughter and middle-aged servant in an intimate set-up. The argument of honour killing, conceptualized by the local police at first, is reintroduced by the revamped CBI team under the leadership of a new officer who, in the film, is a bumbling caricature with a rather comic penchant for speaking in ‘pure’ Hindi (played by Atul Kumar, representing CBI officer AGL Kaul) and the overall guidance of a new CBI chief (essayed by Shishir Sharma).

The climax is a moderated debate between the two teams which have investigated the case one after the other with polarising conclusions, a debate where it is to be decided whether enough unquestionable evidence have been collected to implicate the parents. The delectably engaging set-up has sparks flying as the team of Ashwin Kumar and his former boss (played by Prakash Belawadi) attempt to uphold their findings even though they are no longer the actual people who call the shots.

The seamless edit by A. Sreekar Prasad, the haunting score and tightly knit script by Bhardwaj and the meticulous direction of Gulzar is charmingly supported by the likes of Konkona Sen Sharma and Neeraj Kabi, who enact the grieving couple and their various simulated avatars to perfection. Irrfan Khan is as good as ever as Ashwin Kumar, delivering the punches with the precision of a seasoned veteran. Also notable is Sohum Shah as ACP Vedant Mishra, Ashwin’s aide who does not subscribe to his superior’s largely questionable methods of reaching the truth.

A thriller that refuses to sugarcoat, ‘Talvar’ is an interesting watch no matter which direction you look at it from. The subjective truths in an investigation takes centre-stage as a tragedy becomes a carnival of crudity, where fact is selectively chosen and displayed to fit a particular narrative while a committed officer’s Machiavellian means and troubled personal life steers him far from the glory of revealing the ‘truth’, even as he appears to be the closest to it.

Whether the film will expedite the cause of the Talwar family is something that only time can affirm. What Talvar has already achieved is a rare distinction in Indian cinema as a truly artistic representation of a ‘true crime’ saga.

One merely wishes that in hindsight, a student of film would not hold the film’s laughable attempts at fictionalisation, where the Talwars not only become Tandons but CBI becoming CDI by a stroke of the pen, to categorise Talvar as yet another ‘inspired fiction’ rather than a commendable investigation by a group of artists who decided to double as seekers of truth.  []

Film: Talvar
Directed by Meghna Gulzar
Written by Vishal Bhardwaj
Released on October 2, 2015
Language: Hindi

First published in Issue #2 of CultureCult Magazine (November 2015)