We've come to expect nothing less than genius from Aamir Khan, and he rarely fails to deliver. While Talaash too is the perfect marriage of cinematography, cast, dialogue and direction, despite all the evident hallmarks of Khan's own brand of brilliance, harking back to a bygone genre, the conclusion to the story might be deemed a tad too far-fetched for a modern audience.
The film opens with a gritty snapshot of a seedy, shallow world, where beneath the harsh glare of neon lights, prostitutes hawk their wares alongside the city's street vendors. A lone car swerves, careering off the street and ploughing into the sea. Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat -Suri (Khan) arrives at the crime scene as the vehicle is dredged from the ocean revealing a dead movie star at the wheel. In the course of his investigations to discover the cause of the accident, the troubled inspector encounters a sex worker called Rosie (Kapoor), who lures him deeper into the mystery of the dead body, and in doing so unleashes the secrets of his own tormented past.
Talaash requires you to engage your mental faculties, captivating you from the opening frame to its moving conclusion. Built around a thought-provoking premise that invites you to delve into the deepest recesses of a wounded mind, the film is marked by evocative performances from the core cast, while the tension and intrigue never let up.
Khan inhabits his character entirely. There's a hint of the maniacal in his fixed, determined stare, locked as he is in his obsessive thoughts. His angst is etched in his every grimace as his emotional pain manifests in his physicality. Conversely, Khan has a natural and easy interplay with Kapoor that serves to further highlight Suri's fractious relationship with his wife and his deepening fascination for Rosie. It is an uncompromising performance and nothing less than you'd expect from the inimitable Khan.
Kapoor and Mukherji equal Khan, both in the intensity of their performances and in their deeply damaged states.
Mukherji is stripped bare in her portrayal of Roshni, the bereft wife grappling with profound loss and unable to reach out to her distant husband. Vocal in her distress, she perfectly counters Khan's silent descent into melancholia.
Part-seductress, part-metaphor, Kareena Kapoor leaves you breathless. Admittedly, she benefits from the soft focus lens, Farhan Akhtar's poignant dialogue and her integral part in the proceedings, but it is in her knowing glances, coquettish nuances and beguiling innocence that she is rendered mesmerising, no more so than in the ethereal underwater sequences.
There's also no mistaking the technical brilliance of the film, from the authenticity of the city streets, the stylish, soft-focus sequences reflecting a hallucinatory state, the keen camerawork and the adeptly edited flashback sequences depicting a mind working overtime, while serving to unravel the story. The film is perfectly paced, with moments of frantic haste countered by the tension of lingering silence, employed to great effect between Khan and Kapoor. The haunting background score too, is imperative in establishing the ambiance, further heightening the building tensions.
It's a heavily layered film rich with symbolism, and clues are everywhere, as in the very deliberate naming of the characters, pointing to the missing piece of the puzzle.
When the story is understood as a metaphor and a study of psychosis, it is intensely powerful. Yet the final explanation for the mysterious turn of events amid a convoluted blackmail plot - though deftly executed - being too literal, could render it almost outlandish, as the line between reality and metaphor becomes confused, and therein lies its single, but significant flaw.
Talaash is an exploration of the imaginings of a tortured mind, an allegory depicting the psychosis that occurs after trauma, and though it is well-explained, it becomes something altogether unexpected and unlikely.
In its simplest form though, it is still a gripping whodunnit and an edifying cinematic experience.
Talaash will confound, bewilder, intrigue and enthral you. A film worth thinking about.