Talvar is a Bollywood drama based on the controversial 2008 Noida double murder case that left a huge mark in the long history of murder cases in India. There was a lot of hue and cry surrounding this case with multiple opinions by police, CBI and media being split into two, contradicting each other. Their opinions are based on the one vital question that could either shelve the case forever or keep it wide open for more digging. The question is, was Aarushi or Shruthi (as mentioned in the film) murdered by her parents?
Shruthi (Ayesha Parveen) was found dead in her room and the Tandons’ (fictional name for Talwars) servant Khempal (based on Hemraj) went missing that day. This lead to the suspicion that Khempal is the murderer. After a long search with obvious contamination of vital evidence by the police and media due to improper sealing of the crime scene, the decaying body of Khempal was found on the terrace of Tandon’s flat. With many unfortunate circumstances and with unethical methods of investigation, the police declared that it was a case of honour killing. According to the police, the parents found Shruthi having sex with Khempal and Mr. Tandon (Neeraj Kabi) murdered them both in a fit of rage. The police also reported that both Shruthi and Khempal witnessed Mr. Tandon’s infidelity and he wanted to keep it under the wraps by “silencing them both”. The case was eventually delegated to the CBI. CBI officer Aswin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) started digging deeper and unveiled several aspects of the case including the fact that the Tandons are innocent.
Meghna Gulzar mentioned in several interviews that the film is objective and unbiased but based on what is seen on-screen, the plot is sympathetic towards the Tandons. The Arushi Talwar case is also a much studied example of trial by media where both Aarushi and Hemraj were declared lovers and the Talwars were stamped killers. However, the film reduced that trail by media detail to maybe 10-20 seconds.
The film focuses on how badly the police, the CBI and the justice system failed the two victims. They were able to influence the case by changing the circumstances, highlighting certain facets without considering that there could be another explanation for it. For example, how Mr Tandon knew the time of death (he guessed it for the sake of completing the funeral rituals) and why Mrs Tandon (Konkona Sen Sharma) screamed “Khempal ne kya kiya!” (What did Khempal do!), which sounded like she was trying to frame him on purpose.
Even today no one knows who killed Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj. The 2008 Noida double murder was never actually solved and that is the tragic aspect of the film itself even though every available evidence and witnesses were directed towards her parents. Honour killing is prevalent in a country like India so the police and the media didn’t think twice before tagging a 14-year-old child as sexually active. That’s what Mrs. Tandon accentuated when she said her daughter was 14 when asked if she had a boyfriend. The film is very real in presenting all those points.
Meghna Gulzar did a considerable job based on Vishal Bharadwaj’s well thought out screenplay in Rashomon-style story telling. The film focusses on the police and CBI investigation and the Tandon’s story is wholly presented in their viewpoint. Is it factually correct? That is left for the audience to substantiate, especially the part about Kanhaiyya (based on Krishna, the other domestic servant of Mr Tandon). Irrfan Khan did a fantastic job and he dominated the film like he always does with his exemplary acting. Ashwin Kumar was a very interesting character to witness. Neeraj Kabi and Konkona Sen Sharma were convincing as Shruthi’s parents and their body language and expression resembled the way Talwars were during their trail.
However, there are many unintentionally funny scenes during the intense investigation that left the audience giggling. Some of the dialogues during the meeting between the two CBI teams with conflicting viewpoints of the case (Congress vs BJP as described by the CDI chief) towards the end. Was it all necessary? And Tabu’s role felt like it was added in to either give the actress some involvement (not in a feminist-friendly way though) or for stretching screen time.
Overall the film is a good watch. Do not expect it to be an entertainment with an ending that satisfies you. This film will make you question the system, how the media dramatizes, how the cops work, how well they could influence an investigation, how badly they are corrupted and so on.
Disclaimer: the article is also published in Feminism in India
Featured image credits: huffingtonpost.in