A Search Gone Awry
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DIRECTOR: Reema Kagti
CAST: Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherji, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Shernaz Patel, Raj Kumar Yadav
The first half of Talaash is good enough for you not to want to blink. The atmospheric thriller, toplining an angst-ridden cop, his hollow-eyed sad sack of a wife and a stunning street-walker, has you hooked right from its lovely opening credits. In short order, all the right ingredients arrive: an accidental death, promising sub-plots, and dodgy characters, and it all starts to swing. Post-interval, though, the tale-telling starts to stutter, the pace slackens, and the film becomes less than the zinger it set out to be.
As Surjan Shekhawat (Khan) delves deeper into a Bollywood star's mysterious death-by-drowning, it is clear that he's going down the path where appearances will be deceptive. His search leads him to a red- light area, sleazy pimps, haggard hookers and bags full of blackmail money. The talaash also makes him double back on his troubled personal life: his wife, Roshini (Mukherji), is slowly recovering from the trauma of a dead child, a strange woman (Patel), who claims to be able to talk to dead spirits, is stalking him, and the only one holding out a hint of solace through his wakeful nights is good-time girl Rosie (Kapoor). Other characters show up, chief amongst them being a young cop-cum-sidekick (Yadav), a one-legged dogsbody (Siddiqui) who stumbles upon a lead, a rich guy with a secret, a pimp with a stash, and a worn-out whore who wants to run.
It begins all nicely grungy-pulpy and let's-see-what-happens-now, with lilting music that matches the mood even if it underlines it a tad. Kagti, whose previous debut outing was that little gem, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, keeps it moving, skilfully segueing from one element to another so rapidly that you reach the half-way mark without even realising it. The minor niggles are papered over by the prologue's paciness, after which the irritants become annoying. Characters, especially Surjan and Rosie, begin having long, rambling conversations. The whole wandering-spirits-want-to-talk-to-humans schtick turns squelchy, the artfully built up suspense starts getting porous, and you begin anticipating: I counted four instances where I knew exactly what the characters would say next, as the film quickens to the big reveal (which can be a real surprise if you haven't twigged on), and its wilted post-script.
But when the going is good, Talaash is smooth, not so much because of its principal cast which does what it does: Aamir, Kareena, and Rani are star-competent but are not actor-stretched. Khan's bushy, lower-handle-barred moustache fits in, so does his frown, but his not being able to loosen up makes him feel the same right through; ditto with Rani, though she does get a nice moment or two; Kareena looks gorgeous but doesn't lift her part with a single nuance, or a flicker. In its better bits, Talaash lets us ignore its studiedness — the squalor of the red light area, the determined low-life lingo, the hard-worked cop-station back chat, the high-class homes of the rich and famous — and gives us a Hindi movie genuinely trying for a whodunit-cum-whydunnit.
Talaash starts out as a smart, well-written noir-ish thriller, and then slips between the tracks. Pity about the second half.