WTF ASIA 217: Talaash – The Answer Lies Within (2012)

The moral of the story is to avoid driving into the water.

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. I prefer the Amazon version to the Netflix version, if only for not cutting out the few seconds of intermission.




After the opening credits, the movie presents a street separating the city from the water. It is pretty empty, save for a couple of homeless men and a dog resting on the sidewalk. Maybe a bicyclist and another dog.

Here comes a car. It turns suddenly. It was in no danger of hitting anyone, so what gives? Whatever happened, it goes off the road and into the water.

The next morning, police officer Surjan Singh Shekhawat arrives on the scene. Officer Devrath Kulkarni greets him. Surjan looks around and interviews the witnesses. Eventually, the car is retrieved from the water. One look at the driver and Devrath knows that it is superstar actor Armaan Kapoor. And his ID confirms it.

Armaan’s wife, Sonya, goes to the hospital to identify the body. Afterwards, she asks Surjan what happened to the driver, Ramu. Or his spot boy Yuvraj. He accompanies Armaan everywhere and Armaan hates driving. Unable to console her, Surjan tells Devrath to track down Ramu and Yuvraj.

Meanwhile, the news has broken. Superstar Armaan Kapoor died in a car accident on Sea Face road near Mumbai’s Red Light District.

A man named Tehmur meets with his buddy Shashi to tell him the news. Armaan Kapoor died here on the Sea Face road. He just came from there and it is chaos. This gets Shashi’s attention, as well as the attention of his girlfriend Malika. Shashi had told her that he had met with Armaan last night, but she thought that he was kidding. Tehmur is surprised, but Shashi tells him to shut up, unsubtly threatening to break his good leg. Oh, I get it Tehmur…like Tamerlane, the…anyways…Shashi orders Tehmur to get them breakfast. Malika says that Shashi is too mean to Tehmur. And Shashi smacks her, telling her to never repeat in public what he says to her in private. He apologizes for the slap, but she leaves upset.

Suspicious, eh?

Back at the station, Surjan and Devrath go over what they know about Aarman’s last night alive. Armaan was shooting a film at Film city for Producer Deepak Lalwani. They wrapped at around 2:00 AM. At that time, both Ramu and Yuvraj were with him. They told Devrath that Armaan took 15 minutes to change and then sent them both home from the studio, which they found weird. He left Film city at 2:20. It would take around 30 minutes to get from Film city to Sea Face road at night, but the accident took place at 4:00. So…what happened during that hour in between? Unknown. Additionally, Sea Face road is not even on his way home.

Just then, Surjan receives a phone call from a reporter asking about Armaan’s cell phone. He hangs up almost immediately. Then he gathers all of the cops at the station. Who leaked? No one fesses up. Okay, who could get him in touch with a journalist if he needs to leak a story? A few people raise their hands and Surjan has Devrath confiscate their phones. No talking to the media until the case is solved. They can talk to him, though.

After that lecture, an officer named Rakesh Rane approaches Surjan. He expresses doubts that the case will ever be solved, as there had been similar accidents on that road in the past few years. Freak accidents put down as acts of providence.

Tehmur is cleaning up a table at a brothel and…totally not looking up the skirts of the sex workers across from him. Shashi, sporting a slicker haircut than before, comes in to take a few sex workers for some clients who had come from Goa. He rejects one named Nirmala, mocking her for being too old. After Shashi leaves, Tehmur tries to reassure Nirmala that she looks really nice. She says that she knows, but it is clear that she appreciates his words.

In the meantime, Shashi, his driver, and the sex workers go through the Red Light District, which is swarming with cops. One of the sex workers mockingly asks Shashi why he looks so worried. He doesn’t respond.

Shashi goes back home and locks the door. He opens up a little hidey-hole to retrieve a green Puma bag He removes the cash and puts it in a hidden compartment in a suitcase. Malika knocks on the door and Shashi opens it after he is done hiding everything away.

And here comes Tehmur with a new SIM card. Shashi takes it and tosses his old SIM card on the floor. Tehmur asks if Shashi is changing his number, but Shashi refuses to answer, telling him instead that he is going stay in his home village for a few days. Then he orders Tehmur to leave. Tehmur does, but not before secretly picking up the old SIM card with his foot. He waits outside and overhears Shashi tell Malika that this is a business trip and that no one can know anything about it.

Surjan is having dinner with his wife Roshni and another couple named Sudhir and Mira. Mira is prying him for details about the case. Why was Armaan on Sea Face road in the first place? Is Sonya Kapoor as beautiful in real life? Surjan says that it was an accident; that’s it. Mira says that it is so sad. Armaan was so young. He shouldn’t have died. Surjan tersely retorts that young people die all the time, but no one says anything then. Roshni, who had been silent all this time, gets up and leaves. Surjan apologizes to Sudhir and Mira, but Sudhir says that there is no need to apologize to them. Mira asks how Roshni is doing. Surjan says that she is better. He has spoken with a psychiatrist named Anjali Punjabi, whom Mira recognizes as being good. Roshni comes back with some cutlery and napkins, acting as if nothing happened.

Surjan cannot sleep. So, he sits on the sofa holding his son’s toy…lightsaber?

The next day Surjan sees if he can recreate the accident…well, without hurting the vehicle. Since Armaan’s car was in good condition, it could not be a vehicle malfunction that caused it to brake and the turn so suddenly. It is as if he had been trying to avoid hitting someone. But there was nothing. And he wasn’t drunk or on drugs either.

Roshni is taking things out of boxes…oh, did they just move to a new place? In any case, she goes to answer the door. A neighbor named Frenny Mistry introduces herself and kind of invites herself in. She brough cheese cake. She tells Roshni that she has the number for anyone whom Roshni might need for help around the house. After an awkward silence, Frenny asks for some tea. Roshni goes to get some and Frenny asks whether she stays at home all day as Surjan chases robbers. That gets Roshni to smile a bit.

After Roshni goes to the kitchen, Frenny looks through the boxes until she finds what she was looking for: a picture of Roshni’s son, Karan. She strokes the photo rather eerily.

Surjan goes to Armaan’s apartment. It appears that the crowd of condolences has dispersed, leaving only Sonya and Armaan’s childhood friend Sanjay. He admits that the investigation does not have much. He asks Sonya if something had been mothering Armaan. If he had been depressed or disturbed. Sonya angrily insists that Armaan did not kill himself. After calming down, she says that her accountant had told her that he had given Armaan 2 million rupees in cash that day. Around 26,000 USD. They don’t know why Armaan had wanted it.

Surjan and Devrath go to see Iqbal the accountant. He says that he had given Armaan the money at 7:30. He had it in 1000 notes in a green Puma bag.

The bag wasn’t in the car. So, Surjan and Devrath question Yuvraj, the spot boy. Yes, there was a bag that Armaan’s accountant had given him. Red? No, green. He insists that he did not open the bag.

Back to Iqbal. He was not told what the money was for. But this had happened twice before. And once, about a year ago, Armaan had instructed him to give a million rupees to the receptionist at Hotel Lido, which is close to where the accident took place. Again, he doesn’t know why.

Surjan and Devrath go to the hotel and ask for an Anand Murugan, who had been the receptionist. Apparently, Armaan had known him by name? The boss tells them that he quit and had not been in contact.

Surjan goes to see his boss, DCP Manish Awasthi. Manish asks whether this was an extortion case, but Surjan says that his wife and friends would have known. More likely, it is blackmail. Surjan does not believe that it is linked to his death, but there are a lot of unanswered questions. Also, Sonya has filed an FIR, which is…um…it is this. In any case, Manish gets annoyed, but Surjan tries to assure him that they will get more answers once they find Murugan.

Somewhere that does not look like a village, Shashi calls someone. The someone asks what happened to Armaan that night and Shashi claims ignorance, saying that he wasn’t there. The someone tells him to stop lying, as the police know about the 2 million. Shashi tells the someone to handle the police, saying that there is still 3 million left to pay.

After attending some…neighborhood talent show…or something…Surjan and Roshni head home when Frenny runs up to them. Roshni introduces the two, though Surjan has apparently met Frenny’s brother, Inspector Billimoria. That would have been the end of it, but Frenny walks with them and tells Surjan that she had been wanting to meet him for a while. She has come to deliver a message from his son.

This gets Surjan upset. Frenny says that Karan wants to talk to him, but Surjan tells her to shut up and stay away. He grabs Roshni’s wrist and speedwalks home as Frenny yells out that Karan is fine and just wants to talk to him.

Later at home, Roshni wonders how Frenny knew that Karan called Surjan Dada. Surjan states that she must have learned when she barged the other day and asked her personal questions. Roshni says that she had said nothing about Karan. What if she is telling the truth? What if she really did talk to Karan? Surjan looks at Roshni with disgust. Karan is dead. He cannot talk to anyone. But maybe some people talk to spirits. It could not hurt to talk to Frenny once. Surjan exits the conversation.

Surjan drives through the city. He remembers Karan and his friend asking to go for a walk by the lake. He remembers waking up just in time to see Karan and his friend riding in a motorboat and it tipping over. He remembers rescuing Karan’s friend, but being unable to find Karan.

Surjan stops at Sea Face road. He is exhausted and has a headache. A woman comes up to his car and says that he looks like he needs some love. Oh, hey, that is the sex worker who teased Shashi for looking nervous. In any case, she tells him that she can take his pain away. Surjan tells him to save it for someone else; that he is a cop. She tells him to arrest her. He asks how that would help as she is already in hell. She agrees, but says that she knows the path to heaven. There is a heaven in every room in Hotel Lido. This gets Surjan’s attention, and he tells her to get in. He asks her how long she has been working in Lido. Seven years. He asks about Murugan, and she says that he contracted AIDS, so the manager sent him off to Melur, which is around 720 miles southeast of Mumbai. Surjan thanks her and opens the passenger-side door. Surprised, she tells him that she can really help him, but he says that he will find her when he needs her. So, she gets out of the car. Surjan asks for her name. Rosie. He bids her goodnight and drives off.

Devrath travels all the way to Melur to meet with Murugan. Murugan confirms the story about the bag. It was for Shashi, a pimp who works from the hotel.

Surjan goes to Shashi’s place, only to find Malika. She tells him that Shashi went to Sangli for some work. But he did not specify the work or when he would return. Surjan tries to impress upon her that Shashi is in trouble, but Malika insists that she doesn’t know anything more. Then Surjan asks whether he ever mentioned Armaan Kapoor. She shakes her head.

The cops go to the brothel. The madam is not very forthcoming with information about Shashi until Surjan threatens her with arrest. For…well, it doesn’t matter, because she backs down, telling someone named Christina to get her diary. Meanwhile, from the back, Rosie gives a smirk.

Devrath goes to Sangli, which is, luckily for him, only 180 miles southeast of Mumbai. Unfortunately, Shashi did not go there. He calls up Surjan, who says that he had figured that…so…kind of a waste to send Devrath there at all, but I guess that you have to say that you did. They will find him anyways. And they will get the answers that they seek. They have to.

 

 



First, to get this out of the way, Talaash means search or searching or something like that. It is not an uncommon title for Indian entertainment. So, this movie has nothing to do with the 2003 movie called Talaash: The Hunt Begins, despite them both featuring Kareena Kapoor. I saw a little bit of The Hunt Begins and…well…I would advise against mixing up the two movies.

I will say this for the Indian mystery movies that I have seen: I have never been able to predict the reveal. Never. Upon rewatch with this one, there are clues all over the place and maaaaybe I would have been able to work it out had I been given just one nudge, but I didn’t. I cannot say whether I would have liked the movie as much had I figured it out before the movie revealed it, but I guess that we will never know. Now, while I don’t particularly care how the reveals usually bring the movies to a screeching halt in order to make the explanation easy to translate into various languages, I did not mind it here, mostly because the reveals were doled out over time instead of dumped all at once.

I cannot really say much about the mystery itself without spoiling stuff. I will say that it deliberately utilizes the elements of a standard mystery. A famous rich person dies under odd circumstances near a seedy slum. What was he doing there? Was he visiting sex workers? Was he being blackmailed? Was that related to his death? I will say that if you are still super-focused on the mechanics of the story, then you might be caught up with issues towards the end, like what the “plan” was or why they were going that way. But I think that that misses the forest for the trees. Or…something like that.

I get the impression that writer Zoya Akhtar and director Reema Kagti were just as interested in those elements surrounding the mystery as they were in the mystery itself. In particular, they were focused on how people cope with living when someone dies. This leads the movie to be quite a bit more moving than it initially presents itself.

First, there is the death of rich superstar Armaan Kapoor. Of course, his friends and family grieve, but so do so many others do as well. People who never met him, never knew him, never really got anything from him except for some enjoyment from his movies. His death is public, and massive. How could someone die so young?

Karan was eight years old when he died. And only a few people know. And while those who know are sad for his death, only his parents truly grieve. But they cannot grieve together.

Upon Surjan’s request, Roshni is seeing a psychiatrist to process her grief. Yet, this former science teacher finds herself tempted by the possibility of contacting the spirit of her son. As for Surjan, he doesn’t see the psychiatrist, instead throwing himself into his work, chasing down a story that may or may not be related to his case. Meanwhile, he cannot sleep. Replaying in his mind the happier times when his son was alive and the moments that he died. Sometimes he just sits on the sofa at home. Sometimes he goes driving around the city. What he doesn’t do is talk about his feelings; instead, he shuts down any conversation about Karan.

Of course, this leads to a rift between him and Roshni. Sure, none of this is particularly new ground, but it is not just window dressing to give the protagonist a backstory beyond the main story. Also, the movie does not treat Roshni as a nag or just crazy, treating her with respect and sympathy.

I am not entirely sure that a similar thing can be said for the world of the slums, but there are at least attempts. Some of them are just portrayed as scummy, but others are at least portrayed as complicated. Rosie, almost always putting on the guise of the temptress, there are…kind of more facets to her. The characters are all just trying to survive, which sometimes means engaging in shady behavior and fighting amongst themselves. They may mourn their dead, but know that death can come at any time. So, they cannot mourn for long. They cannot afford to. And as Rosie says to Surjan at one point, people like her might as well not exist. They can die and no one would care, least of all police officers like him. They are to be abused by those above them, discarded, and ignored, unless they are able to grab a little bit of power. Then watch out.

I suppose that I technically could say more about the movie without spoiling it, but I will just say that I liked it very much.





WTF ASIA 218: Ride or Die (Japan: 2021, approx. 143 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.


WTF ASIA 219: Platform (China: 2000, approx. 155 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in Canadathe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.