The best way to watch Talaash is to know as little about it as possible. So without giving away any spoilers, lets just say the following:
The story follows Aamir Khan’s Inspector Shekawat investigation into the sudden death of a superstar Indian actor who seems to have driven himself straight off the promenade and into the sea. Then there is Shekawat’s troubled relationship with his wife, an amazing performance from Rani Mukerji, struggling to recover from the death of their only son. To say any more on the story would be a disfavor to writer-director Reema Kagti, who has taken such great measures to keep it under wraps.
It’s hard not to compare this to the other Indian suspense thriller of 2012 - Kahaani. In truth, Kahaani comes off as the stronger of the two with a far more focused story, following the main character from beginning to end, whilst Talaash falters as it moves from one alternate plotline to the other. However, despite the clear influences of The Sixth Sense and Shutter Island, plagiarism - that most common folly of Indian cinema - does not befall Kagti’s film, and she should be commended for this.
The performances of every actor involved are stellar: Aamir Khan is dependable as ever and exhibits great understated emotion in his portrayal of a man trying to not only make sense of the case he is assigned to, but also the marriage for which he continues to feel less and less. Rani Mukerji and Kareena Kapoor do superb work in their respective roles as subdued housewife Roshni and sultry prostitute Rosie, and it is testament to the writing, acting and direction that these roles do not fall into caricature. The scenes that Aamir shares with both of these actresses are simplify electrifying.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, an actor who continues a deserved rise to the top after his successful turns in Gangs of Wasseypur and Kahaani, also impresses greatly in a role as a disabled low-end criminal who creates a plan that can help him hit the big time. However, despite the magnificence of the performance, his subplot feels undeserved in the film, and far too much weight is given to it. Any time the film stems away from Shekawat and Roshni, or Shekawat’s attempts to crack the case with the assistance/temptations of Rosie, the film tends to lose focus. The one exception to this rule would be the fantastically choreographed action chase sequence that takes place in the second half – one just ends up wishing it was in Kagti’s next action film where it could have really earned its place.
One of the main letdowns of Talaash is the lack of stakes for Shekawat. Of course we worry that rather than rectifying his marriage with his wife he may be falling under the spell of a seductive prostitute, but regarding his mission to solve the case - he has nothing to lose. He has a high post in the police, a team that fully respects him, a wife that loves him and doesn’t seem to want to leave him… so what if he doesn’t solve the case? It’s not as if they’ll fire him? Unfortunately, if solving the case doesn’t mean that much to Shekawat, it doesn’t give that much to the audience to emotionally invest in.
In terms of sound and visuals, Ram Sampat’s subtle soundtrack and Mohanan’s murky Mumbai landscape complement each other fantastically to create a suspenseful atmosphere. Generally, the tone of the story keeps quite even throughout the film, with some genuine laughs here and there. It’s just a pity that when the shocking twists finally arrive, those familiar with western cinema may see them coming from a mile away.
Through Talaash, Kagti proves that she has a great knack for drama, thrills, action, comedy, horror and the supernatural. There’s also some very powerful social commentary she shares through natural dialogue that rarely comes across polemic, and will definitely offer the audience food for thought. Though not a masterpiece, Talaash should be applauded on steering commercial Indian cinema towards something different. A good finish to a good year for film.