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'Talvar': A Propaganda Film With Weak Cinematic Appeal

09/10/2015 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Talvar, directed by Meghna Gulzar, is based on the 2008 Noida double murder case wherein 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar and 45-year-old Hemraj Banjade, Talwar family's domestic help, were found murdered. The case aroused great public interest thanks to the intensive media coverage that it received. After a series of investigations, first by the local police and then by two separate CBI teams, Aarushi's father Rajesh Talwar was named as the sole suspect but the CBI filed a closure report due to insufficient evidence. However, a special CBI court converted the CBI closure report into a charge sheet and ordered proceedings against the Talwars following which the couple were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The case is currently pending in the Allahabad High Court.

"While the movie may succeed in its motive to change the public opinion about the Talwar couple, it fails to pack a punch as work of cinematic art."

Vishal Bhardwaj, who has written the movie's screenplay, is hailed as one of the best filmmakers working in Bollywood today. But, Bhardwaj's morbid obsession for dark themes and controversial subjects never ceases to amaze this critic. In Haider, among other things, he touched upon the delicate subject of Kashmir and ended up presenting the Indian Army in a rather bad light. Similarly in Talvar, Bhaadwaj puts his scanner on the CBI. Now, Haider was supposed to be an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet but Bhardwaj latched on the opportunity to unleash a hidden propaganda to rebuke the tactics adopted by the Indian Army to crush the rising militancy in the Kashmir Valley, back in the 1990s.

In Talvar, Bhardwaj once again tries to lead the viewer in a certain direction, perhaps driven by a hidden agenda to change the public opinion about the Talwar couple convicted for the dual murder of Aarushi and Hemraj. As a matter of fact, Talvar reminds this critic of the propaganda films of old like Battleship Potemkin--a revolutionary propaganda film made by the luminary Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein to evoke sympathy for the rebellious sailors of the Battleship Potemkin and hatred for their overlords--and Triumph of the Will--a powerful film made by the German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl at the behest of Adolf Hitler to perpetuate the Nazi propaganda. While Talvar may not have been made in the same vein as those two monumental films, the propaganda is still quite evident.

"Everything about the movie looks rather forced as if someone is knocking at the doors of creativity in a hope to conjure up a semblance of realism."

Now, there have been many who have compared narrative of Talvar with that of the Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. Well, it appears that they don't have a clue about what Kurosawa actually tries to depict in his groundbreaking masterpiece. The fact of the matter is that Kurosawa never makes an attempt to lead the viewer. He just shows us the same event from four different points of view. Kurosawa doesn't feed us with lies, only the different faces of truth. Talvar, on the other hand, is a completely different affair. While the movie, its propaganda aside, is not really bad but one finds it rather difficult to appreciate its desperation as a work of cinema. Everything about the movie looks rather forced as if someone is knocking at the doors of creativity in a hope to conjure up a semblance of realism. Alas, a craving for realism in an attempted 'whodunit' doesn't sound like the best idea!

Overall, Talvar comes across as a curious case of hits and misses. While the screenplay, despite being laced with a hidden propaganda, is quite solid, the direction is aesthetically weak and lacks the creative imagination one generally associates with the films of Vishal Bhardwaj. In the acting department both Neeraj Kabi and Konkona Sen Sharma disappoint. While Kabi seems to be missing his mojo (an actor of his caliber certainly deserves meatier caricatures), Sharma looks a bit out of place. And while Irrfan Khan fails to bring his A-game to the table, his performance nonetheless is the movie's strongest point (his scenes with Tabu, who makes a guest appearance in the film, are a treat to watch), especially thanks to his characteristic wry humour and wit that offer some comic relief at regular intervals. But even that looks a bit forced. While the movie may succeed in its motive to change the public opinion about the Talwar couple, it fails to pack a punch as work of cinematic art. One wonders how different the end product would have been had Bhardwaj himself donned the director's hat. In its present form, however, Talvar, giving its scope and promise, proves to be quite an underwhelming experience.

A version of this review was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.

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