To begin with the question that’s top of mind — is Talaash worth a watch? Yes, undoubtedly. Does the film live up to the anticipation that Aamir Khan’s seven-year good run at the BO (not counting 2010’s Dhobhi Ghat) has given rise to? Umm….more or less. Will it do the Rs 300 crore-and-more business of 3 Idiots? Unlikely, for despite all the stars to give it ballast, Talaash is not a feel-good mass entertainer in the mode of 3 Idiots or an all-brawn revenge drama like Ghajini; it’s low-key, dark, even a trifle slow, with the action more in the mind than on screen. It is being pegged as a crime thriller but Talaash is more noir than classical whodunit.
Director Reema Kagti, making only her second movie after the sleeper hit Honeymoon Travels, offers an engaging plot that manages to hold for most of the film’s two-and-a-half-hour duration. Aamir, as everyone who watches CID on Sony TV knows by now, plays a cop called Surjan Singh Shekhawat — upright, dedicated, good at his job and urbane, though somewhat angtsy — who leads the investigation into the death of an actor, Arman Kapoor, after his car mysteriously veers off the Worli Sea-face in the middle of the night and plunges into the sea. Aamir puts in a restrained performance, using his bloodshot eyes more than his wrists.
Rani Mukerji as his wife, Roshni, looks the part in plain saris and little make-up but has little to do. Kareena Kapoor as a prostitute reprises her Chameli act in tacky accessories and short, tight dresses. Her Rosie is the mysterious enchantress, all luminescent skin and tawny eyes, who lures our hero down the streets and into bars, and keeps him guessing with cryptic clues — red herrings? — to help him with his investigation.
It is, however, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, playing a lame, brothel lackey called Taemur, who is really the pick of the cast. Continuing with his amazing form since Kahaani, Siddiqui is pitch perfect as he transforms from the abject and likable, though slightly greedy figure who is privy to all the little secrets of the girls and their pimps, and uses them to his advantage, into an active player in a dangerous game of blackmail. As he blusters his way through blackmailing calls and makes moony eyes at an over-the-hill sex-worker called Neelima, enticing her with plans to escape with the loot, even his shuffling gait seems to straighten out into a loping strut — ending with an amazing chase sequence that has him flying down the stairs of a railway station in one of those wooden platforms with wheels used by handicapped beggars.
The film is also ably supported by its technical cast. Ram Sampath carries on the good work from Delhi Belly, although his sound track for Talaash is less flashy, more contextual. The dialogues, by Farhan Akhtar (and Anurag Kashyap, who is credited for “additional dialogue”), are taut but leavened with humour and nice, ironic touches. There’s a particularly cheeky line where a constable tells Inspector Shekhawat, referring to the way sex-workers never give out their real names: “Inka kya hai, yeh kabhi Rosie aur kabhi Chameli batati hai (These people are unreliable, one day they are Rosie, another day Chameli)”. But what really stands out is Sheetal Bapardekar’s sets — the sleazy, night scenes in Mumbai’s red-light district as much as the Parsi-colony-flat ambience she recreates which mingles the mundane and the eerie to strike the right note of uncanny.
Where Talaash’s plot will strain the credulity of a lot of viewers is in its paranormal track — the life-after-death plot device it turns on is believable as long as it applies to the anguish of bereaved parents who will jump at any straw. But to connect it to the crime is stretching things a bit far.