If you are an alien from outer space and your idea of humanity is formed solely on watching mainstream commercial Hindi movies, you could not be blamed for thinking that human beings are defined by two primary emotions. Anger and love. And that’s about it. Even in this rather restricted palette, there exist little in terms of shades. Anger is typically Sunny Deol snarling “Balwant Rai ke Tattu” (or Taate I forget which) or Amitabh Bachchanian “Aaj Khush to bahoot honge tum” angst. Love fares even worse, that many splendored thing reduced to juvenile “oohing and aahing” of the Ishq-wala love variety, an over-the-top concoction of roses-and-chocolate hyper-romance which frequently requires multiple adjectives to (“Pyar Ishq Aur Mohabbat”) hammer in the “Kaheen na kaheen koi hai” lovey-loveiness. Other expressions of emotions, when and if they are shown, are almost always concomitants to love, “Pyar ke Side Effects”. Thus melancholia has to stem either from the pain of separation between mohabbateins or from unrequited puppy-love. Even lust (“jism ki bhookh”) is defanged and transformed into a pink syrupy love-goo (“pyar ka ehsaas), bypassed from the loins to the heart in a masterful feat of moral surgery.
“Talaash” is rare in that it eschews romance in its formulaic pulpy form and instead walks the road less traveled, exploring grief in its raw intensity. Unlike most of its other 100-crore-wannabe contemporaries, it makes the effort to define a dramatic conflict, the tension between two parents as they try to cope with the loss of a child, each in their own ways. When the movie begins, the audience is introduced to the wife , emotionally unhinged, and the husband, stoic, sad but firmly in-control. As the layers unfold, the truth is revealed to be something totally different—it is the wife who clutches at hope while trying to move on and it is the husband who is caught in a downward spiral of self-loathing, teetering on the edge of insanity, refusing to let go. Through music, acting and story-situations(there is deeply moving scene between the wife and her psychiatrist) this “reveal” is beautifully executed, making “Talaash” a searing study in pure grief, reminiscent of Mahesh Bhatt’s amazing “Saraangsh”.
And as beautifully as it does this nuanced “reveal”, it fails as spectacularly in its handling of the supposed twists and turns of its main thriller plot. “Talaash” recycles a plot as old as the hills and then, if that was not bad enough, telegraphs the final twist so many times before the end that one cannot but help “get it.” It’s almost tragic. Here is a film that takes so much care to get character and progression right (the difficult part) and then does such an amazingly slapdash job with its main story and premise (the easy part), almost as if someone took the beautiful “Dhobi Ghaat” and mixed it in with the execrable “Mela”, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde bit of schizophrenic film-making if there was one.
Despite its obvious and rather damning failings, “Talaash” still remains, in my opinion, miles ahead of the pack. It does not take the tried-and-tested route to Bollywood success—the loud Punjabi comedy-romance or the teenybopper romance. It does something different, something “adult”. It does not succeed, not uniformly any ways. At its worst, it is as predictable and brainless as any of its competitors. At its best, it is a mature exploration of a most difficult emotional nuance, the intersection between grief and guilt. And this, just by itself, makes “Talaash” an unique piece of modern-day Bollyana.