Direction: Meghna Gulzar
Actors: Irrfan Khan, Neeraj Kabi, Konkona Sen Sharma
Nothing piques public interest like a high-profile murder case. From Jessica Lal to Aarushi Talwar and now Sheena Bora, audiences snap up every new detail, tune in to every debate and soon arrive at verdicts of their own.
Seven years after the Noida double-murder of 14-year Aarushi Talwar and domestic help Hemraj Banjade, the case is far from convincingly solved. We care about it — morality dictates we should — but we’ve moved on to newer, even more sensational cases, debates and character assassinations. The Mukerjeas are the new Talwars.
The film Talvar follows on the heels of Avirook Sen’s book, Aarushi, seen by many as a more comprehensive and unbiased presentation of facts than the case presented by the prosecution. Mainstream films have far greater reach than books. Yet this effort by Meghna Gulzar — whose last work was a segment in Dus Kahaniyaan, in 2007 — is sure to draw comparisons.
The characters’ names have been changed. So Aarushi Talwar is Shruti Tandon, Hemraj is Khempal, and the CBI is CDI. But that is where the veiling ends.
A film like this must entertain, but also be sensitive. Gulzar deftly walks this fine line. She presents a blow-by-blow recounting of the police investigation with neither the detachment of a documentary nor the sensationalism Bollywood is often guilty of.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s script (is there anything the man cannot do?) has the pace of a thriller. But the biggest challenge of the visual medium lies in telling a story where two very different versions exist — one in which the parents are guilty, and one which absolves them.
This is where the film truly shows its mettle, by enacting both scenarios. The first perspective is that of the outsider, the maid who was the first person to arrive at the scene. Later, the same scenario will play out twice more, as two other interpretations surface.
Neeraj Kabi and Konkona Sen Sharma as the Tandon parents remain measured as they play both the culprits and the victims in the two versions, without histrionics.
The only hints at the makers’ own stance is in the choice of central character — CDI officer Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan), the only one who builds a case for the Tandons’ innocence.
It would have been easy to make this character a punchline-spewing hero figure. Instead, he is believable and flawed. He drinks on the sly, out of bottles wrapped in paper bags, and distractedly plays Snakes on his phone while a parent sobs.
But Talvar isn’t as much about the brilliant performances as it is about mature storytelling. It shakes you up, and forces you to think — about administrative negligence and internal politics, and about our own role as voyeurs, gleefully consuming gossip-laced ‘details’ with little care for authenticity.
We did it with Aarushi, and Sunanda Pushkar, and Sheena Bora. It’s real-world crime meets Bigg Boss. If only we could tell them apart.