Talvar Is A Monumental Film In Real-To-Reel Depiction
Buying popcorn during intermission never felt as inappropriate.
Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar, a wryly immersive experience, could have very well been a documentary, reenacted with some very talented actors for the benefit of truth. There is forever that uncanny, uncomfortable feeling of prying; of seeing more than you should, or should be allowed to. With camerawork that is often designed to look intrusive, the audience is left with the very same voyeuristic undertones it completely ignored when it consumed every news piece of the actual story. The act of munching on popcorn during the movie, just amplifies the discomfort.
The discomfort, consciously abandoned, when in the month of May, 2008, 14-year old Aarushi Talwar and her domestic help Hemraj were found murdered in their Noida apartment. Unflinchingly, with very little regard for lives lost, we consumed with an overtly inquisitive need, every piece of information that would tease us with tit-bits about the lives of the Talwar family. A family that otherwise resembled our very own, with a grade A student, working parents and a resident domestic help. We devoured every vulgar contortion surrounding the family, we tried hard to alienate ourselves from. In that alienation, we’d hoped to reassure ourselves that we were safer. A delusion, perhaps.
In the last several months, the double murders that took place over 7 years ago, have seen renewed interest. With journalist, Avirook Sen’s book on the subject, Aarushi, introducing startling investigation facts hitherto kept hidden, and squashing dangerously circulated myths, the amount of interest in Meghna Gulzar’s cinematic adaptation of the real life tragedy was only doubled. It’s known, a bit too well perhaps, that Indian cinema has very rarely done justice to real life tragedies. Its need to over-dramatise, shock and sensationalise has rendered several incidents great disservice. And the Aarushi – Hemraj murder case had already been dealt, with, rather unfairly. The scatalogically impolite Rahasya, which saw release earlier this year, took the very same incident, twisting it to make way for a hyper-fictional, obscene ending; reminiscent of the manner that a certain television producer known for her never-ending soaps had cashed in on the same not many years ago.
This is where Talvar steps up to be a rather vital addition to a list of real-life adaptations. When arguing for creativity, we often say that ‘everything goes’, if the result makes for a compelling artistic venture. But when inspired from a real-life incident, especially one mired with such tragic an undertone, how much leeway should really be taken? It’s a rather ill-fitting debate, where basic humanity must ensure truthfulness as much as possible. In that sense, Meghna Gulzar’s version is a befitting call of action; not just to our voyeuristic need and the justice system, but to filmmakers handling real-life subjects as a whole.
As anybody who may have followed news beyond the sensationalized bits, or as anyone who may have read Sen’s ‘Aarushi’ would know, the murder case was plagued with lopsided investigation, several back and forth results, and a judgement delivered on very flimsy ground. Channeling these several sides into one cohesive narrative, the director, Gulzar and the writer Vishal Bhardwaj, himself, team up to give us several impassioned takes on the same reality, reminiscent of the actual proceedings. We’re presented with the version of events as understood by the UP police; a second version, as understood by the first team leading the CBI investigation; and a third version, as was the final report suggested, culminating into the actuality as we know it today. Gulzar handles this rather effectively, as we grow increasingly uncomfortable watching Aarushi (called Shruti in the movie) die again and again, in each of those several versions. It’s the validity of the truth that hits us; not the titillation, which is all but absent. The style, tonality and even music is kept very documentary-ish, yet dramatic enough to keep the interest going. It must be applauded then that Gulzar makes it possible to create a highly compelling visual account that does not succumb to cheap theatrics. The actors, right from the game-players Irrfan, Konkana and Neeraj, to the supporting faces; each showing great amount of restraint in their performances, not only playing into histrionics.
With every frame, every line, Bhardwaj and Gulzar can be seen making a statement. With Aarushi called Shruti, one is reminded of the dissident UP Police chief, who remembered not Aarushi’s name, calling her Shruti instead, but went to great lengths to point fingers on her character. Indeed, the names of all the characters are cleverly and slyly only just twisted to keep the reality of the account glaringly obvious. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar become Ramesh and Nutan Tandon; Irrfan Khan’s Ashwin Kumar is representative of the real life Arun Kumar, who led the first team of the CBI on the case; AGL Kaul becomes Paul; CBI becomes CDI and so on and so forth. The most tragicomic of the lot is the house help Bharti Mandal, who becomes Basanti on the screen. A reading of Sen’s book will notify just how little Bharti really spoke, but just how much damage her changed testimony had really caused.
It’s clear Bhardwaj’s script went through adequate research to stay as true to source material as possible, but, since independent of Sen’s book, it gives us fresh information, while omitting some for the purpose of editing. Together, both these pieces of work are not just reflective of justice done wrong, but also a call for respecting reality. If several filmmakers could handle their subjects just as sensitively and truthfully as the makers of Talvar have done, we’d have an audience better equipped to take sides.
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