‘Talvar’, or ‘Guilty’ as it was penned to the London Film Festival crowds, is a true crime thriller that rocked India in 2008 when the crime occurred, and subsequently stormed the box office upon its release this year. Centred on the real life murder of 14-year-old Arushi Talwar, a girl killed in the middle of the night in her bedroom while her parents slept next door, this story is every bit as grim as you would imagine.
However, this is not your typical crime thriller. The focus is not on the death itself, but instead dives head on into the investigation, enabling us to understand just why this case received so much attention. With no clear suspect, another body on the roof, and the parents the easiest of targets for the initial police investigation, it is an incredibly uncomfortable film to view.
This level of discomfort is expected though, owed largely to the meticulous research displayed within Meghna Gulzar’s film, as it plays out more like a re-enactment as opposed to a dramatic adaptation of real life events. These events in turn become heart-breaking to watch, as we view the frenzied investigation flicking between present day and repeated possible theories on the murder, the tragedy becomes emphasised further upon every view. The gut-wrenching repetition becomes immensely frustrating, not due to lack of interest or any negative mark on the film itself, but as it has drawn on actual testimonies from the investigating officers to build out these theories in order to translate this onto our screen, the incomprehensible level of total ineptitude when handling a case like this is mind-boggling.
Talvar benefits from a very talented cast, including a stand-out performance from Irrfan Khan (The Lunchbox, Jazbaa) as the conflicted CDI officer. Elsewhere the bumbling police chief played by Gajraj Rao is a bittersweet performance; convincingly playing the mildly amusing idiot, until you remember that sadly this is worst possible person for this scenario. While the parents played by Konkona Sen Sharma and Neeraj Kabi embrace this tragic case, steering the film away from melodrama, they create a dark and emotional atmosphere, visually aching from the entire ordeal.
At first glance you would assume that there is an agenda here from Gulzar, to present the parents and the case in a particularly biased way to implore the audience to take action after the final credits roll, but we were assured that what we saw were just facts. If it is biased, it is because by the end, it is painfully obvious who committed the murder.
Talvar is a clever film, never leaving you to believe one theory for too long, before jolting you with another twist made all the more shocking by its roots in reality. Usually skeptical of ‘true story’ adaptations, I left the cinema feeling angry, but impressed by the standard of which this thriller maintained throughout. Those looking for a compelling and unique crime story need look no further than this Bollywood movie; a real step up in quality for Bollywood as a whole and a welcome addition to the crime genre.