The 2008 Noida double murder case was a shocker for the whole nation because of the nature of the murders as well because of who the accused were. Parallel to the investigating agencies’ probe and the judicial trial, the media and, consequently the public, were holding a trial of their own. Now, 7 years later, Director Meghna Gulzar’s film “Talvar” takes the facts and the rumours surrounding the case and concocts a feverishly brilliant, and at times, disturbing film. The name of the movie comes from the Lady Justice’s sword, which, as a character points out, is conveniently forgotten as compared to the scales she holds in her other hand.
The film begins with an introduction to the main protagonist, CDI Joint Director Ashwin Kumar(Irrfan Khan), and a reference to the double murders as well. The names of all the major and minor players have been changed. So the Talwars are Tandons, Aarushi is Shruti, Hemraj is Khempal and so on.
Konkona Sensharma and Neeraj Kabi as Nutan and Ramesh Tandon in the movie.
Apart from acclaimed actors like Irrfan Khan and Konkona Sensharma, the movie also has a strong support cast of relatively unknown but terrific actors. Neeraj Kabi as Dr. Ramesh Tandon, Shruti’s father and prime accused, is superb, as are Sumit Gulati as Dr. Tandon’s compounder Kanhaiya and Sohum Shah as an ACP in CDI( another name change there, from CBI). The build up of tension is unsettling throughout both halves of the movie, helped in no small parts by the documentary-like cinematography of Pankaj Kumar and the eerie background score provided by Vishal Bhardwaj, who also co-produced the film and wrote the screenplay. The film plays as a police procedural and shows the Indian police’s complete apathy and disregard for human life and emotions, apart from their ineptness in handling a case. The local police take such a lax attitude to the handling of the crime scene that one can’t help feeling disgusted at it all. Small wonder people don’t have much belief in the police forces. The movie also questions the shortcomings of the judicial system. Apart from that, the film also shows how the media drives the investigation of such a case. It shapes public opinion and with the help of so-called experts who might well not be having any access to the evidence, declares the accused guilty. There are definite parallels to the Sheena Bora murder case that’s been in the news the past few months, not least the fact that the officer supervising the investigation was dumped unceremoniously out of the probe in both the cases.
Another noticeable thing about the movie is its Rashomon-esque screenplay. While the director said in an interview upon the film’s release that she hadn’t watched Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 masterpiece, writer Vishal Bhardwaj has surely used the “Rashomon Effect” to good use in telling alternate versions of the incidents which portray the parents as either guilty or not guilty. Like 1990’s Reversal of Fortune, this film doesn’t try to tell us what exactly happened that fateful night in March 2008, although it makes it quite clear that its sympathies lie with the parents of the girl.
Irrfan Khan and Gajraj Rao in a still from the movie.
The second half of the film shows how selfishness, jealousy, office politics and spiteful attitude botch up even the best of probes. Despite what happened mostly being in the public domain, I wouldn’t spoil that part for the viewers. The movie also focuses on a different viewpoint, led by a different investigator, and halfheartedly and hurriedly shows us what could have been the flaws in the first team’s probe. Halfheartedly because it believes, and wants us to believe too, that the parents are not guilty. At the end, the movie tells us that the parents of the girl were found guilty based on circumstantial evidence and sent to prison. There is no dramatisation of the verdict.
What Talvar achieves, above anything else, is cinematic glory. Despite the bias on the part of the filmmakers, the film holds up well through a typically powerhouse performance from its protagonist and a taut screenplay, which never let’s our imagination waver. Director Meghna Gulzar has made an intrepid movie which shows that she might well be able to step into her illustrious father’s boots.
Talvar is 132 minutes long and rated U/A. It is now playing in cinemas.
P.S. – The relatively lukewarm reception to this movie as compared to the other big release on the same weekend, Singh is Bliing, just goes to show that Indian viewers will rather watch a masala flick than a hard-hitting, true crime-based movie. More’s the pity.