The film is not so much about establishing who actually committed the crime. It is about human beings and their biases, political and personal, and how those influence the course of justice.
It was 2008 all over again. The Noida double murder of the dentist couple's daughter, 14-year-old Arushi Talwar, and their 45-year-old domestic help Hemraj, which began as a routine case gathered momentum as the media and investigating agencies got deeper into this unsolvable real-life whoddunit. Eventually as it dragged on for years, the case had gripped the attention of the nation's middle class. No wonder then, the first day turnout of the sold out shows of Meghna Gulzar-directed film, Talvar, at a Delhi cinema theatre comprised mostly of them. So much so that reams of newsprint and hours of airtime devoted to this case in the last seven years didn't seem to have dulled their engagement: running commentaries and guessing plot turns punctuated, rather gratingly, the screening time of 132 minutes.
Talvar is a suspense drama inspired by the real-life Talwar case (thinly veiled dates, names, places et al). It focuses on the doctor couple, played by Konkona Sen Sharma and Neeraj Kabi as Nutan and Ramesh Tandon, and a case officer of the central department of investigation (CDI) Irrfan Khan as Ashwin Kumar. Much has been said about the film following a Rashomon treatment—presenting differing view-points of people related to one case as established by the 1950 Japanese film by director Akira Kurosawa. The plot which begins like an athlete warming up, soon picks up pace and draws you in. It keeps you at the edge of the seat, even managing to quieten the talkative ones. The typical paan-chewing bumbling police inspector (played by Gajraj Rao) and his team blamed for the shoddy investigation, etched a bit exaggeratedly at the beginning, also end up well-blended as the film flows into a larger, layered context.
The film is not so much about establishing who actually committed the crime. It is about human beings and their biases, political and personal, and how those influence the course of justice. Whether it is a look at how powers influence agencies and people under them—the personal becoming political and vice versa—or the course of one's life impacting how people dispense their duties. The film doesn't necessarily offer easy, quick judgments (thankfully), and instead invites the viewer to contemplate a longer look at people and life.
Besides a tribute to Kurosawa, Meghna also offers one to her legendary lyricist father Gulzar. Don't miss the reference to his critically-acclaimed 1987-film, Ijazat, (a mature take on love and man-woman relationships) while dealing with the sub-story of Khan and his wife (played by Tabu in the film), who go through a trial separation alongside Khan's work on the murder case.
In terms of performances, stalwarts Khan and Sharma don't disappoint. Khan manages to pack in his quiet, dry humour, while Sharma gets her histronics right. Theatre actor Kabi, who was seen as the Jain monk in the critically acclaimed film Ship of Theseus, puts in an intense one. The casting seems stellar; every character looks in place, right from the domestic helps to the CDI officers. Prakash Belwadi as Swami, Khan's boss, is another to be watched out for. When Swami tells Kumar that the sword of Lady Justice has gotten rusted in the last 60 years in this nation and he hopes that cracking the case would offer some redemption before he retires from service, you know then, the aptness of the film's title, and the timing of the release date.
With four films to her name, Meghna Gulzar (who debuted with Filhaal in 2002) has given a fairly clean cut with this one.
Director: Meghna Gulzar
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Neeraj Kabi, Gajraj Rao