Synopsis – An experienced investigator confronts several conflicting theories about the perpetrators of a violent double homicide.
My Take – What do you expect from a film directed by Meghna Gulzar (Filhaal), written by Vishal Bhardwaj (Maqbool, Kaminey, Haider) & starring power house talents such as Irrfan Khan & Konkona Sen Sharma among others, based on a double murder case which shook the whole country from its core. Well of course – Excellence! The real story – In 2008, Aarushi Talwar, 14, the daughter of middle class parents, was found dead in her Mumbai home with her throat slashed. Suspicion quickly fell upon the family’s servant, a Nepali migrant named Hemraj, but when he was found dead the next day in a nearly identical slaying, all hell broke loose. This was only the beginning of an event that captivated the nation with more twists and turns than even the nuttiest that Bollywood could come up with. The 2008 murder of Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj Banjade and the subsequent investigations, of which the film is the fictionalized account, are complex, with multiple official points of view, compromised evidence, and of course breathless media accounts with unnamed sources, rumors and innuendo. The Noida double murder, as the case is familiarly known in India, has been the object of conjecture and speculation since day one, here Meghna Gulzar‘s film is the second attempt (Kay Kay Menon starrer Rahasya being the 1st) to tackle the material on the big screen, and trust me it’s an explosive piece of work. The views on this case are polarized and often hardened, so how to make a movie about it? Vishal Bhardwaj and Meghna Gulzar took the time to scrupulously research the case, and present a Rashomon-like telling of the story with multiple viewpoints, allowing the viewer to conclude which case is most compelling. The best part about the film is it doesn’t waste time in establishing a happy family before to show the loss. It gets straight to the point and starts from the morning Shruti’s body is found. The script is water-tight so much so that we get engrossed in it right from the first frame. The intensity that is built quite early in the story stays intact after interval too. The ending is not at all abrupt. It goes with a number of intriguing questions that keep floating in mind even after leaving the theater. The story gets absorbed in your mind and heart and unknowingly or even if unwillingly it travels with you, stays with you and keeps haunting you and probing you with many questions.
What if? Why that? How could it be? are the few questions that keep floating in your mind. It has been well written by Vishal Bhardwaj and the similar credit for screenplay too goes to Vishal. Of course, it is a film which shows the Talwar family’s side of the case, throwing light on how they were implicated in the case but never ever does it falsely make you root for them. It also opens our eyes on the fact that things like Narco tests are conducted on the accused even though they are not admissible in court. So even if you manage to get a confession out of them, they are almost redundant. The film attempts to extensively showcase all sides of the double murders and does it exceedingly well. Issues like sensationalism in the media, long panel discussions on TV and incompetency of the police force are brought up in the film. Personally, I loved the chunks that showed how desensitized the police probably is because murder and crime scenes are this regular to them. It’s also great testament to Gulzar’s skills as a filmmaker that she manages to make the audience laugh ever so often, in the middle of a super intense sequence. Shruti, name changed for the film from Aarushi, was presumed to be an innocent, a victim of a crime of violence and passion from her repressed household servant. However, as soon as the police arrive to begin an investigation, reality and fiction begin to meld in discomforting ways. The story follows Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan), a CDI (Central Department of Investigation) officer who has been handed the homicide case of teenage girl Shruti (Ayesha Parveen) & her help Hemraj, due to highly incompetent work, media pressure and the mockery the police made of itself. Based on the statements provided by Kanhaiya (Sumit Gulati), the police have already arrested Shruti’s father Dr Ramesh Tondon (Neeraj Kabi) & accused her mother Nutan Tandon (Konkana Sen Sharma) of being an accomplice in the misdeed. Ashwin step-by-step gathers all evidence, while verifying each evidence scientifically in order to find the real culprits. The film is a remarkable achievement that works on a number of levels, both as a contemporary Indian movie in contrast with the mainstream market and as an experimental effort designed to question long-held assumptions of superiority and safety. Far from a traditional police procedural thriller, the film turns most of those conventions on their heads, along with the traditional Bollywood reverence for the police. In addition to that, there is also the splintered story line, multiple points of view, and stellar performances to consider.
Some of the most remarkable directing takes place as Ashwin attempts to collate all of the different stories into a coherent series of events that makes sense and doesn’t fall prey to the lies and liars attacking him from all sides. This gives us multiple gut-wrenching reenactments of the brutal crime through the testimony, both legitimate and coerced, of numerous participants and witnesses. It’s not easy to watch, but it is necessary to understand the dynamics of the character and what he must suffer in order to reach his end goal. Vishal Bhardwaj has excellently written the screenplay of this movie. Full marks to him for converting this long, confusing and multi-angle case in just 132 minutes run time. This being a true story, the challenge is on the writer to deliver a screenplay that will keep the audience engaged and Vishal does it really well. Meghna Gulzar‘s direction could not have been any better. She excellently succeeds in re-showing the already known details of the murder investigation which ruled the news channels for multiple months. The incompetence of police and CDI, the mockery of investigation made by the media, the TRP hungry media and the emotions of parents are all excellently shown on screen by director Meghna. The flip-side is that the pace of the movie is slightly slow in the second half and has unwanted fillers that could have been completely avoided. (e.g multiple shots of loneliness of Irrfan, his story with Tabu, the frozen shots of the blind fold justice lady). Talking about the stellar cast in the movie, I have to say ‘mind blowing’. Irrfan Khan does it again. It’s so much fun to watch him on screen. He is sharp, intelligent, rude, sarcastic, angry and frustrated. He proves to be a very good choice for the role. Konkana Sen Sharma & Neeraj Kabi as parents are very good. While Konkana has few dialogues, Neeraj mostly emotes through his expressions, any attempt to add unnecessary dialogues would have ruined his character in the movie. Gajraj Rao has also acted well as the incompetent police officer. Other actors like Atul Kumar, Sumit Gulati and Prakash Belwadi also make their presence felt. Tabu is like able in a limited role. On the whole, ‘Talwar‘ or Guilty (released in festivals under this name) is a gripping, infuriating, and at times a humorous film that reflects how politics, media and judiciary can change directions of the justice. It is a must watch movie, quite serious, intense and intriguing with no excessive and non-digestible masala or item numbers to please. Even if you have a whole lot to do this weekend, make a point to watch this film.
Director – Meghna Gulzar
Rated – U/A
Run Time – 132 minutes