Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Talaash: why it worked (until that twist came along)

The principal actors in Reema Kagti's twisty little mystery: Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Kareena Kapoor and Nawazuddin Siddiqui all work really hard. Aamir and Rani turn in selfless performances, Kareena deliciously vamps in a showy role and Nawazuddin infuses the movie with a desperate urgency. Reema and Zoya Akhtar's screenplay hums and crackles like a live wire on asphalt. Then in the end, there's that (much buzzed about) twist. Having thoroughly enjoyed most of the movie, I came out thinking: Holy Hannah, what a letdown!

There are reasons why the twist doesn't feel organic. There are two parallel stories in the narrative - one is about someone who converts to believing (Rani) and the other about a person who remains rational and staunchly refuses to believes (Aamir). Reema makes a few half-hearted attempts to infuse creepiness in the first storyline. She gives up in a little bit and instead focuses on the upping the emotional quotient. This is a very interesting choice because I thought it impacted the movie in two fundamental ways.

First, Rani's fine performance enables Reema to juice the story emotionally. Rani is able to depict plumbing the depths of sorrow without self-inflicted blame. She makes her choice to believe that her son might be reaching out to her believable simply because it helps her get through her pain. While exploring Aamir's own torture, Reema pulls out a nifty little sequence where Aamir awakes from a nightmare and plays out a couple of alternate scenes that could have averted the disaster that took his son's life. It works devastatingly well.

Second, by focusing on the emotional as opposed to the supernatural, Reema distracts us enough that that twist takes you by surprise - but so much surprise that it feels like Deus ex machina. When we know there is a twist coming, we all start second guessing everything in the movie. That's part of the fun of watching mysteries like this. But a good one will set the stage for the twist that is about to happen so it doesn't feel like an afterthought. The story in which Rani believes is meant to offset and set the stage for the one where Aamir rationalizes his way through his murder investigation. But that doesn't happen because, I thought, of this interesting choice Reema made.

A bit on the much lauded performances. I loved Rani and Aamir's willingness to serve the story above all. In particular, I love the fact that Aamir is able to eschew his superstar trappings so that an absorbing movie can be forged. Rani does the same, although she has less at stake in terms of stardom and reputation, wrapping herself in serviceable saris, loosely knotted hair and bravely putting her freckles on display. What this does is take the gloss of a really entertaining performance by Kareena. The reason is that Kareena isn't able to put her stardom aside and she comes styled in such a sophisticated way, that although she looks jhakaas, she doesn't fit in with the character of the hooker she is supposed to play.

The production design by Sharmishta Roy is spare and dark - the sets look lived in and melt beautifully in the back while enhancing the scene. I thought Anand Subaya's editing was crackerjack - especially in the way he put Jee Le Zaraa together and a key scene that begins at a train station and ends at a construction site. When the time comes to deliver jolts, his cuts are timed perfectly and carry a lot of punch.

I'm not sure who had the idea of putting that droopy mustache on Aamir, but it was inspired. There are a couple of scenes in which Aamir is required to stare down hookers and henchmen and Aamir, with his dog ears and matinee idol looks, gets a much needed edge thanks to that patch of hair.

A few people I talked to just didn't buy the whole premise of the twist. I had no problems with it - you have to embrace a high concept as long as its part of the entertainment. (There were some confounding things that bugged me in minor ways.) But I loved Reema's attention to detail: It was cool how Aamir measures out the word talaash a couple of times to tie us to the movie's title. In an underwater scene in the end one character is emitting air and the other is clearly not.

However there is one scene in which Rani and Aamir go to the movies to see Rohit Shetty's PJ and pratfall-heavy Golmaal. And Rani laughs her ass off. That part I found to be a little beyond belief.


Ritu said...

Agreed! The twist left me cold and thinking ' now what happened and where did that come from ' otherwise really enjoyed the rest of the movie. It was tough to watch and realistic but it was very violent.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the movie but you are right - the mustache adds an authority to chocolate hero Amir. btw, have you seen Kiran Rao's Dhobhi Ghaat. Caught it on the plane on a trip and was completely surprised how good the movie was.

- Joules

Unknown said...

I have always been one to be spooked out by 'dark water'. The second that car careened through a sunsaan gali into those foreboding pitch black waves, I was thrilled and hooked.

You have already covered the highlights and lowlights but extra points for picking up on bebo's chic prostitute clothes. A little more tacky would have made the styling more believable. It probably stood out more because rani and aamir were so appropriately garbed for their roles. That picture they take in 'jee le zara' is the most candid looking staged shot of a family taking a group picture ever!

Reema's honeymoon travels was wonderfully warm and hopelessly underrated, glad here she will get her due.

Unknown said...

Joules, no I haven't. And I've been hesitating but always happy to take a recommendation. Its on netflix so easy to get to.

leera, yes killer beginning! And I loved the way "Pinky" was introduced to Aamir.

velagyan said...

I think the movie was quite entertaining, The performances were strong and i didnt felt bored at all