Starring: Irrfan Khan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Neeraj Kabi, Prakash Belawade, Atul Kumar, Sohum Shah, Gajraj Rao
Directed by Meghna Gulzar
There is a scene towards the end of Talvar where two sets of CDI (a fictional CBI) officials defend their own line of investigation into the double murder case, while trashing the other’s account. It’s a long, riveting scene, sailing smoothly on some crackling writing by Vishal Bhardwaj (a smart dig at the BJP and Congress, a cheeky reference to the missionary position and merry quoting of popular Bollywood songs) and compelling performances by Irrfan Khan and Prakash Belawade on the one side and Atul Kumar and Sohum Shah on the other. It’s the solid writing, sharp dialogue and the spot-on performances which shine along, be it Neeraj Kabi and Konkona as the parents charged with the murder of their own daughter, or Gajraj Rao as the crooked Noida cop who leads in the investigative botch-up. Of course, it’s the quirky, witty officer, Irrfan, who gets the most play and he makes the most of it.
Talvar is a straight, linear retelling of the infamous, convoluted Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj double murder case of 2008. Talwars become Talvar of the title (as in sword of justice), Hemraj turns Khempal, Aarushi becomes Shruti and Jalvayu Vihar of Noida is Sameer Vihar. The focus is on the slipshod work of the cops rather than the trial itself. The film pretty much shows what has already been in the public domain without any embellishments—the utterly inefficient Noida police, the CDI probe led by Ashwin Kumar (Arun Kumar in real life, played by Irrfan) finding a set of suspects other than the parents, the transfer of the case to new investigating officer Paul (in real-life, A.G.L. Kaul, played by Atul Kumar), who believed the parents to be guilty, how the CDI had recommended closing the case because of insufficient evidence, how the judge rejected the closure report, initiated proceedings against Ramesh and Nutan (Rajesh-Nupur) and eventually convicted them on circumstantial evidence while their appeal remains pending.
There is a subplot of Ashwin’s own marriage (with Tabu) falling apart, backed with some heavy referencing to Gulzar’s Ijazat. The attempt is to give a more rounded touch to Ashwin’s persona but it doesn’t quite cohere with the film. But this crib apart, Talvar makes for some engaging viewing. What also works wonderfully is the film’s sense of the place. Noida—be it the residential colony, the flat or the cop station—feels utterly real. The moments of mirth in the midst of serious investigative work is also a nice touch.
The film is sensitive enough to not dwell too long on things that had turned the actual case voyeuristic—the charges of wife-swapping; or that of a supposed affair between the girl and the servant. In the process of showing us the miscarriage of justice, it highlights the unfairness meted out to the parents, but remains measured. Its sympathy does quite lie with the parents but it doesn’t make an overt cause of it.