Talaash—The Review

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.


48 thoughts on “Talaash—The Review

  1. It’s “Balwant Rai ke Kutte”.

  2. GB,

    Maybe you need to stop trying to copy Chetan Bhagat all the time?

  3. Sambit “GB, Maybe you need to stop trying to copy Chetan Bhagat all the time?” Please give details rather instances where Mr Bhagat has been copied.



  4. Sambit, How have I copied Chetan Bhagat? Curious.

  5. Right Arnab da we really liked the film though the ending was a lift off from What Lies Beneath. Rani really rocked without an iota of make up and so did Mr. Khan

  6. GB… no offence… but an ‘aamir khan’ murder mystery with such a useless explanation in the end… sucked big time.
    here is my piece… not,a review…
    Just For Fun

  7. Well written. Gives me a sense that the movie is worth checking out.

    Seems to me that even though the plot seems to have had bad twists and a bad ending by your and other accounts, it sounds like the movie is worth checking out for the character acting by AK.


  8. I would like to make a special mention of the acting in the movie. It is uniformly brilliant – from the lame pimp, played by Nawazuddin, to his ageing prostitute paramour, Shernaz Patel, who manages to be effective even when saddled with some of the most ludicrous lines in the film, and of course Rani Mukherjee, whose performance is her strongest and least affected in years. A special mention to Kareena’s performance – it could have become camp to easily, she’s a prostitute after all – but she manages to be mysterious, alluring, and sexy at the same time. One can almost empathize with Aamir’s unwilling, yet inevitable attraction to her.

    Aamir is predictably brilliant. His portrayal of an outwardly stoic, grief-stricken man is extremely moving. The scene where he envisions the different ways in which he could have prevented his son from being killed gave me goosebumps.

    Forget the plot. Just watch Talaash for the mood, the ensemble cast, characterization, and acting.

  9. Ok, I just realized I wrote an awkwardly framed sentence in the previous comment. Sherzan Patel is not the “ageing prostitute paramour”. She’s an autowriting medium.

  10. Great review and I would agree with the dichotomy in the analysis

  11. Good points. similar to conflicts in movie I also have conflicts whether I liked. Or not. Did you mean sangharsh or your spelling is right ?

  12. Agree with the analysis. Some people have been disappointed with the movie & have labelled it “not a typical Aamir flick”. Would like to know what a “typical Aamir flick” is, as he is never really “typical”. Yes, the pre-climax twist could & should have been handled better, but that in no way takes anything from the film, which is a searing study in grief.
    Also, fully agree with one of the comments above that specifically mentions Kareena…have fallen in love with her all over again. Why can’t the Kareenas & the Ranis choose more films like this one, when they have the capability to shoulder the responsibility such films/scripts demand??

  13. I tried really hard to get the movie out of my mind, but I couldn’t! The haunting sound track and songs stayed with me and so did Kareena’s various expressions. Completely agree with the review. The way the mood is captured in the movie is simply admirable, something I haven’t seen in Bollywood movies for quite some time. More than a movie, it feels like a journey of a grief stricken couple trying to move on from their only son’s loss.

  14. Hey GB, the name of the movie is “Saraansh” and not “Saraangsh”.

  15. Read your May i hebb your attention pliss!
    No plot but still kept me awake all night.
    Wonderful book. Thanx!

  16. there are other subtle love angles which are worth mentioning as well i.e. the 2 pimps and their girlfriends under those circumstances.

  17. Wonderful review! (And yet to watch the movie, BTW). I call this wonderful because I was reminded of the movie reviews I often love to hear on NPR. Now whether I want to see the movie, hmm….. 🙂

  18. @GB,

    Wonder why you are so touchy about any mention of Chetan Bhagat 😀
    Just curious.

  19. “Saraangsh”?? Did you mean “Saaraansh” (Anupam Kher) or “Sangharsh” (Ashutosh Rana)?

  20. I liked the movie except for the 45 min or so. As you said, the quiet desperation of Aamir Khan refusing to release himself from a death-spiral is depicted well. And the fact that their romance is an adult one is important too. Nuanced review, GB.

  21. Pyar Ishq Mohabbat – adjectives or nouns?
    “a most difficult emotional nuance, the intersection between grief and guilt” – “nuance” between difference and intersection?
    But who cares, anyway . . . oops, anyways?

  22. BSML,

    Thanks for the nitpicking. I am so glad when people come to read a blog and then nitpick. But still, Pyar Ishq Mohabbat is the name of a movie. They are nouns being used as adjectives to amplify the theme. This is a bit of humor here which is lost explaining. The nuance is the intersection between grief and guilt. I fail to understand what your problem is.

    {Psst…WP showed me your previous comments and I see you have called me a Islamophobe and commented on the “banalities I write”. I wonder why then why you come to read such “banalities” and nitpick. Oh wait. I get it.}

  23. Somebody pointed that u copied Chetan Bhagat…”Balwant Rai ke Ku***” ,”Khush to bohot hoge tum” nad few names of the movies were same and the copied one i think 😉

  24. Tanu, Kindly show where from source? And no I never knew that dialogs from Deewar and Ghayal were written by Chetan Bhagat. Or that names of movies made in the 70s and 80s and 90s are Chetan Bhagat’s IP.

  25. Y u no write a Mohun Bagan East Bengal item?

    ispecially after the recent fiasco: http://www.anandabazar.com/archive/1121210/index.html

  26. Wasnt it “Balwant Rai ke kutton”???

  27. Yes,why don’t u write a mohun bagan east bengal item!?? Please!!!

  28. one cannot but help “get it.”
    —> should be —>
    one cannot but “get it”.
    — or —
    one cannot help “getting it”.

    Given Bollywood, Talaash should rightfully get qualified positive reviews, such as this one. And that tells you a lot, not about Talaash but about Bollywood. How pa-the-tic.

  29. A ghost wearing makeup and designer clothes and speaking hindi in strong accent as well as making out with Amir Khan – how very original, profound and thought provoking!
    At least so called masala movies by Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar movies are not pretentious.

  30. Venkat Raghunandan December 12, 2012 — 4:30 am

    Nice review….

  31. I think the majority of people who disliked the movie were put off by the mixing of genres. They went in to see a mystery/crime thriller with a logical and rational resolution to a central pivotal question. Instead what they got was a supernatural, irrational explanation. Perhaps they felt ‘cheated’ by the promos…

  32. Like so many films of the new Bollywood, Talah is ripe with unfulfilled potential. I think i now finally get it why rajeev masand and his ilk give 2/5 to cheeni kum and the very same, 2/5 rating to Aap Kaa Surroor. It is a rare genuine review that they pen once in a while, disappointed to the core, and back they go to don their commercial cinema reviewer hat, unfortunately using the same rating system but a different criteria to judge another movie. Falling short seems to be the passion of our new big house sponsored ‘indie’ crowd. 2/5 is not what you aim for. It is the “pass marks” so to speak. Talash has, indeed, passed in that regards and has failed spectacularly in everything else.

  33. ‘Talash’ and different criteria minus the ‘a’. Apologies.

  34. I went to catch the movie based on ur article here…and good that i dint read the comments coz the suspense wud have been out !! I am a big aamir fan but was not too sure how this movie would turn out..also the sound track was v situational n not massy…but when i went to watch the movie…i loved it. I agree the end is not logical n vage old explanation…but the way the entire movie is treated is beautiful. Its v engrossing and i ws not able to take myself away even for a minute. The grief of parents who have lost their child is show brilliantly n also the way each of them handle it their own way is aslo shown brilliantly. Aamir n Rani have done a splendid job!! Nawazudin siddiqui has done some great work and the 2 prositutes..also did a gud job. The most intrestiong thing is …i m not at all a kareena fan..rather find her too much over the top n hated her in heroine too…but with this movie..her expressions countined to haunt me (n i m a girl..hehehe)her expressions were awesome and i loved her n aamir chemistry in the entire movie..it was v mysterious yet v attractive! Even better..after watching the movie..the soundtrack really grows on u! All in all..it was muchmuch better watch! n yeah..i also saw son of sardaar last week..blv me..i have been cursing myself for watching that trash jst coz some1 else paid for the ticket! 😛 i wish Bwood comes up with more movies like talaash…basically content driven movie! 🙂 gives me hope!

  35. Filmigeek has a particularly insigghtful review that I’d recommend. Even though I found bits of brilliance in the film (mainly the bit about Rani and Aamir’s rocky marriage), I couldn’t agree more with her view. And it seemed inspired by several movies particularly the way many frames were set up. Here’s the link:

  36. Spot on, as always…

  37. Perfect review. Agree totally.

  38. Really nice! I thought Aamir rocked.

  39. Awesome review and spot on as always..vintage bong stuff!

  40. Yes, mature dealing of a rocky marriage. Also, mature dealing of a relationship between a pimp’s fag and an ageing whore. But someone please mention cinematographer K.U. Mohanan. He made seedy, grimy Bombay into a multi-layered character. The best part of Talaash is Mohanan. He is the hero, a real find.

  41. I agree with most of your review, it echoes my sentiments (about grief and the portrayal of angst). However, I still don’t think the ‘thriller/suspense’ angle of it was the main plot – for me, it was just the by-play of the main plot, which was really the characters’ search for closure in their lives. Be it Aamir and Rani searching for closure over the death of their son, Kareena (for obvious reasons) and EVEN Nawazuddin Siddiqui and his girlfriend wanted closure from their bleak lives. They wanted to start afresh. I agree, there were a few incredulous bits in the movie (I gave it a rating of 8.5/10), but it was barely enough to make this even an ‘average’ movie. Talaash was quality cinema, something that I wouldn’t mind watching again, because, as I said, the twist was NOT the main part of the movie. It was never meant to be. This review is the closest to the review I had given. Really nice.

  42. It was a third rate boring movie and a big time disappointment.

  43. Reading the comments it seems Chetan Bhagat’s fans are bigger retards than himself.

  44. The only question in my mind after watching the movie(and yes GB the climax telegraphes itself just around the interval block)… Is Aamir Khan the greatest Indian actor ever? Not so much for acting(which is flawless and unaffected as always)but his guts to back an intense story like this and bring offbeat into mainstream…

  45. Excellent review, Greatbong. I fail to understand, though, why you are put off by the main plotline: was it because of the mixture of genres, as Shubs has suggested above? Or was it because you had assigned too much importance to the main plotline?

    Was the movie supposed to be about the main plotline at all?

  46. ‘m curious as to whether doing something unique and therefore “brave” within the context of Bollywood even classifies as praise? Esp. considering how accessible world cinema esp. Hollywood has become for all of us. How does a viewer who’s seeing Hwood and Bwood movies respond differently to a movie like Talaash? Having seen what I found some of the best of this genre from Hwood, how can I be unmoved by Talaash’s blatant plagiarism? It even lays out the interactions with Rosy’s character much like Shyamalan had done in the 6th sense. The only place where it struck a cord with me was in the way the grief-struck marriage of Khan and Mukherjee plays out; it felt very subtle and authentic (as authentic as film can appear to the audience). I’m tired of this praise being heaped on Amir about how he “dares to be different”- he seems to be worth something only when viewed as a Bwood star and compared to the other Khans. I just wonder how he’d stand when judged as an individual; I don’t think I’d rate him as highly. He’s a hungry actor but also, a very image-and-finance driven one. Not that this is a bad thing; it just isn’t something I personally admire-it’s run-of-the-mill.

  47. SOrry- I meant to say “how can I not be unmoved by Talaash’s blatant plagiarism…”

  48. nothing on the exhume the skeleton and do a proper angi-daah ( or whatever it is called) ! you disappoint me 😉

    I dont know how i stumbled on to your blog but I sure am glad I did ! I think this is probably Rani Mukherjee’s best and the best Aamir has been since RDB atleast for the first half of the movie – after interval the movie looses the plot and Aamir looses the ability to use pronouns and insists on using Rani’s first name in every line of his monologue!

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