Wednesday 7 October 2015

The Current Cinema - Talvar - Adrienne McKibbins reviews a major new Hindi movie

TALVAR (GUILTY) Director: Meghna Gulzar, Writer and Co-producer: Vishal Bhardwaj, India, 2015, 131 mins)

Many in the west may not be familiar with the actual case that the new Hindi film, Talvar is based upon, though most Indians would be.  It has been much discussed in the Indian press and by the public over a long period of time. The case took years before a conviction was recorded.

Known as the Noida Double Murder case, the events took place in 2008.  A 14 year old girl was found in her bedroom with her throat cut. Her parents were in the apartment/flat at the time and there appeared to be no forced entry. Suspicion immediately fell on the family servant who seemed to be missing.  The following day the servant was found on the roof of the apartment building, his throat cut in a similar manner to the girl.  Suspicion then fell on the parents.

It is clear in retrospect that the police did a very poor job initially. The crime scene was compromised, forensics were not done properly or at all, and it appears some evidence was corrupted or lost. The case dragged on for years. There were several investigations. Eventually the case was taken away from the police and handed over to the Criminal Investigation Bureau.

Talvar (Guilty) is Meghna Gulzar's third feature after an eight year gap away from filmmaking. It is her most ambitious and easily her best film, intelligently written by Vishal Bharadwaj (writer/director of the critically acclaimed Haider). The film presents various scenarios (in a vaguely Rashomon style) as to what may have happened, deftly cutting back and forward between what may have actually have happened and what the inspector deduced may have happened. It becomes clear by the conclusion of the film that the filmmakers have strong sympathy for only one of the possibilities presented.

Because it’s a "true" story some audiences would be aware of the outcome of the case, however the film is constantly engrossing, but obviously more so to those unfamiliar with the case or the Indian police and legal system. Without being heavy handed this film is an indictment of the legal system, the press, and the sloppy indifferent attitude to the original police investigation. Notwithstanding the grim subject matter, the screenplay is not without wry humour which mostly comes at the expense of the police and their ineptitude.

Although there may be one too many close-ups for emphasis, Pankaj Kumar's cinematography realistically captures the atmosphere of the streets of suburbia. Noida is about 25 kilometers southeast of New Delhi, a planned city that came into being with the urbanization thrust during the controversial Emergency period of 1975–1977. Direction and cinematography create an accurate picture of the time and place.

Talvar is presented as part police procedural, part crime thriller, part docu-drama investigation, and is absorbing from start to finish. It's not a perfect film but its flaws are diminished by what it has achieved in the presentation of a partly unknowable story. Above all the film has strength in its performances. While all the supporting roles are well cast and essayed, exceeding all is Irrfan Khan's totally unforced acting. As the CID investigator brought to the case reluctantly, and with visible skepticism, he is the driving force and most memorable aspect of the film.  His performance is flawless. Irrfan Khan has had a series of excellent roles in India recently for which he has been acclaimed, The Lunchbox, Qissa, Pan Singh Tomar, Piku etc., he has also established a career outside Hindi films, Slumdog Millionaire, The Namesake, Life of Pi, Spiderman, Jurassic World, In Treatment etc... He has another film releasing this week, Jazbaa, but his performance here will undoubtedly be acknowledged at Award season.

Deservedly the film has received unanimous praise from the Indian media, (there are a whole host of positive Indian reviews on the net). Talvar is easily one of the best Hindi films this year, and not to be missed. It is unquestionably a first-rate example of the diversity and quality cinema currently coming out of India, a perfect illustration that Hindi cinema (Bollywood) is not all predictably the same.

The screening of the film in India has provoked further interest in the case with the original investigating officer (played by Irrfan Khan in film), making a statement in the last few days as to who he believes to be guilty.  Here is an example

For those interested in looking at the facts of the case Wikipedia gives a good basic overview  Pankaj Kumar Pankaj Kumar Pankaj Kumar

Talvar is currently screening nationally.


  1. Must chase this one up. Thanks to Adrienne for publishing this interesting review

  2. I saw Talvar at the end of its second week. Sat alone in Cinema 16 at Hoyts EQ. Remarkable movie, perhaps the finest police procedural of the year. Irrfan's performance/character, indeed that of the whole cast, is superb.


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