A cop’s investigation into a movie star’s mysterious death sets off a chain of events that eventually circle back to his own son’s traumatic demise in the richly layered psychological thriller “Talaash.” This thoroughly engrossing, highly anticipated pic boasts assured direction by sophomore helmer Reema Kagti, a well-constructed script by Kagti and fellow femme writer Zoya Akhtar, and strong thesping by familiar Bollywood luminaries Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Rani Mukerji. Poised to rank high domestically and throughout the Indiaspora, and carrying definite crossover potential, “Talaash” bows worldwide today.
The film opens with a bang: A dog belonging to two sidewalk beggars howls mournfully and scoots off just before a car comes barreling down the empty road. The vehicle inexplicably swerves, hits a stone embankment, flips over and plunges into the sea. Next morning, cops and passersby are shocked to discover the car contains the dead body of popular film star Amaan Kapoor.
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Surjan Sekhawat (Khan), a newly transferred cop with an impressive reputation, dismisses underlings’ superstitious stories about other strange deaths occurring along that stretch of road. Not one for paranormal explanations, Surjan grimly pursues his investigation, which takes him from the luxurious penthouses of the rich to the tawdry brothels and teeming streets of the red-light district, where the actor’s death triggers a firestorm of blackmail, cover-ups and murder.
Meanwhile, in a respectable part of town, Surjan’s wife, Roshni (Mukerji, vivid in a quietly sympathetic role) mourns the loss of not only her young son, but also her husband, shut down and impenetrable in his grief. Roshni’s pursuit of a clairvoyant neighbor (Shernaz Patel), who claims to communicate with the dead, further estranges the couple.
Surjan, who spends his sleepless nights riding around the red-light district, begins to form a strange bond with a hooker named Rosie (Kapoor). Always seeming to know more than she is telling, she lures him, with equal parts cryptic irony and sensual provocation, toward the answers he seeks.
Helmer Kagti proves particularly adept at portraying the irresistible pull of this odd, obsessive attraction, which runs concurrently with the script’s more action-filled twists and turns. She also skillfully employs flashbacks to filter the present through the past; thus, Surjan’s son’s drowning is reprised, differently each time, as memory, nightmare and wishful “if only” speculation. Fragments of dialogue reverberate around Surjan as potential scenarios arise, and the unraveling of present-day mysteries takes the form of a reinterpretation of the past.
Everything in the topnotch production meshes seamlessly, from lenser K.U. Mohanan’s impeccable compositions to Anand Subaya’s kinetic but unflashy editing to Ram Sampath’s evocative score.
Thesping never falters — Kapoor’s enigmatic Rosie in particular tying the film together by her secret knowledge (the film’s revelation is a doozy). Khan’s glowering, repressed sadness may appear a bit one-note to American auds, his mustache tending to obliterate nuance, but his charisma is unmistakable. For the record, the title means “search.”