For years, I’ve wished the phrase “seamy underbelly” would be banned. Now, I wish people would stop making movies about it. But, it sells. So, we walk in the sickly yellow light of the Mumbai night, where girls in garish makeup pucker their lips in rooms with pista green walls and tacky bead curtains, men in tatters curl ganja smoke into the air, and the hardworking poor cycle home after a long day. A car zigzags across the Bandstand Promenade like it has burst a tyre and catapults into the sea. The victim is film star Armaan Kapoor (Vivan Bhatena). And, yet the most senior officer on the case is Inspector Shekhawat (Aamir Khan). We see a young chap who’s clearly made it through the IPS every now and again, but his role is restricted to snapping at Shekhawat twice in the film.
Now Inspector Shekhawat is the sort of man who’ll get someone to drive him across the path in the same manner, to see how the car could have spun off, instead of learning from The Mentalist. We soon find out he’s a self-hating, guilt-ridden insomniac, whose passive-aggressive expressions take up plenty of screen time. He also gets to punch a guy bigger than he is, and scare three ruthless goons because...I don’t know, because he’s Aamir Khan in a lead role, I guess. He’s built a reputation for himself, but we’re not sure because he asks a prostitute why she didn’t file a missing person case when her fellow-escort friend disappeared with some men three years ago. She grins, “lagta hai ke aap ko qanoon sikhaana padega, Inspector saab.”
The film goes about its business with the noble aspirations of an occult classic, but without the imagination to back it up. It’s an odd mix of subtlety and overstatedness. Most of the subtlety comes from Rani Mukerji, playing Roshni Shekhawat, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, playing an odd-job man who finds an opportunity to escape from the misery of the red light area and the underworld that sustains it. The main drawback of the film is that it’s populated with stock characters, and no matter how well they’re played, the story can only fizzle out. Everything happens too easily, and the film is stretched out with unnecessary dialogue, mournful songs, and drawn-out scenes.
The movie is saved by the brilliant comic timing of the actors, and their ability to sustain their characters, however over-the-top they are. Aamir Khan basks in the moods and musings of Shekhawat, but as usual, he overdoes it. I will never understand why all detectives must turn to their subordinates to ask, “How long does it take to go from Film City to Bandstand?” instead of doing the math themselves.
The undoing of what could have been a fun thriller is that it takes on too many issues. On one level, it focuses on the estrangement of a married couple who’ve been through a terrible tragedy. On another, it brings home how miserable the lives of the denizens of the Mumbai dusk are. On yet another, it explores the paranormal. All this, under the umbrella of a murder mystery, can’t really work, no?
The Verdict: Talaash keeps us entertained, but gets into a knot with the twist in the tail.