Saturday, August 27, 2016

Talaash—Of Drowning in the Sea of Grief

Reema Kagti's Talaash is a delicious thriller that feels even better on watching it again. Every few months, I keep revisiting it because of its fascinating storytelling. Even though the ending is known, it has that quality that when one watches it again, there is a thrill to catch all the hints. The film hints at the ending in the first few moments of the film itself. Aisa lagta hai saare jawaab mere samne hai, lekin mujhe nazar nahi aa rahe hai. But when one does see all the answers, there is a satisfying joy due to the realization of everything making sense.
Talaash is the story of inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Aamir Khan), and his wife Roshni (Rani Mukerji), who are going through a difficult time in their relationship after the death of their son. One night, a mysterious accident of a film star occurs where his car swerves into the sea. The film deals with the investigation of the accident. In this quest, Surjan meets the mysterious prostitute Rosie (Kareena Kapoor) who can help him solve not only the case, but also the crisis in his personal life. More than the talaash for the killer, it is more about the talaash for inner peace as the title says the answer lies within. Rosie, Roshni, and Suri are all searching for peace from within to come to terms with life, or rather death. Pata nahi kya dhoond raha hun. Har suraag mujhe aur andhere ki aur le jata hai. There is a supernatural element to the film, something similar to M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense
Talaash is a spectacular story on the theory of grief. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross had famously postulated the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages are not a linear and predictable progression but only a collation of five common experiences for the bereaved that can occur in any order, if at all. There is a little bit of these emotions in Suri, with depression being the most prevalent one in his case. I remember Jab Tak Hai Jaan released at the same time as Talaash, and though it was much derided, in some ways, it dealt with the bargaining aspect of grief. Losing a loved one, especially one's own child, is devastating. We try to avoid reality by imagining alternate scenarios, like Suri does where he imagines he could have stopped Karan from going to play, or he could have gone with him. Many a time, we need to blame someone for the cause of grief, and it makes us question as to why only it had to happen to us. Some people blame God, and some people blame themselves, like Suri does. But life is inherently unfair, and death is inevitable. All we can do is slowly learn to heal ourselves. Generally, time heals everything, but sometimes, people need more than the instrument of time to heal. Each of us have our own way of overcoming grief. Some people speak to psychologists, some people believe in the supernatural, some people just need to talk to someone. All the while, Roshni had not been taking any medicines but she got healed. She says if Suri can go out all night to be with someone, why can't she do something that gives her peace and happiness, even it might not be considered a rational belief. It is these aspects of grief that Talaash touches.
Often, it is said that bereavement is like someone drowning in the sea of grief. Talaash shows drowning as symbolic of Suri being submerged in grief. The sea plays an important role in the film. Both Armaan and Karan died by drowning. When Suri jumped into the lake to save his son, he never really got out of it. He remained immersed in grief. At one point, Rosie tells Suri, "Koi kab tak dooba rahega, Sahab. Kabhi na kabhi toh tair ke upar aana hi padega." In the end, she actually helps him swim to the top after his accident. He had reached the depth of the sea, but now, he has finally come out of it. Rosie takes him out of his grief. A grieving father has seen the sea shore, and accepted the inevitability of death. 
When Rosie meets Suri, she says to him that she can help him. They are a lot like each other. Rosie could not find peace after her death, and she came back as a spirit, roaming around the streets of Mumbai, standing in the middle of the roads, going to restaurants, listening to conversations, and following the people she knew. Suri also could not find peace after the death of his son, and became a ghost of his previous self. He cannot sleep at night, playing with his son's green light saber (trivia alert: In Star Wars series, the green light saber used by Luke Skywalker is said to portray peace and harmony). Like Rosie, he is roaming the streets of Mumbai all the night. They both are ghosts, bhatakti aatmas, one dead, and the other living. Frenny, actually, later says that spirits get attracted to the people who are like them. Both Suri and Rosie help each other in letting go. 
There is the concept of the soul in Hinduism. Hindus believe that the soul is indestructible. Death symbolizes not only the end of the existence of a person's physical being, but also the start of a new journey for the soul. This soul, then, reincarnates in some other life form, and passes through the same cycle of taking birth, growing and eventually meeting death, only to begin the cycle afresh. Cremation of a person's dead body is, therefore, supposed to rid the departed soul of any attachments to the body it previously resided in. After Suri discovers the last skeletal remains of Rosie, he cremates her body. By cremating her, he helped Rosie to crossover from this world to afterlife as she had been suffering in the world. After he does that, he is even shown taking a bath like Hindus usually do after a cremation. An alternative reading is if Rosie crossed over to afterlife through his help, he gets a new birth himself, and gets baptized in the water.  
Reincarnation and karma form the principal beliefs of HinduismKarma describes the principle of cause and effect, which says that past deeds will come back later in the life. It is like action and reaction. The third law of motion given by Isaac Newton states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Similarly, in metaphysics, karma is the belief that states that every act, no matter how insignificant, eventually returns to the individual with equal impact. In Talaash, there is this subtext of karma. Everyone who did a bad deed is eventually punished in some way or the other. The three friends, Armaan, Sanjay, and Nikhil, are punished for the way they treated Rosie. Nikhil is left paralyzed and cannot speak a word after he tried to kiss Rosie in the car. Armaan Kapoor is killed in an accident. Sanjay Kejriwal is arrested, and also killed, in the end. Shashi is killed by a hit man. Taimur is shot, and then, falls off to his death from the building. The hit man who killed Taimur is eventually caught. The old receptionist of Hotel Lido gets AIDS. Good actions are awarded. Mallika is rescued after she tells the truth. Nirmala who trusts Taimur escapes with the cash. There is the principal of reciprocity. Rosie talks about not leaving the world before paying her debts; udhaar chukana baki hai. Surjan, literally, means a good man, and he does good deeds. Rosie tells him that this is not his place, as he is a good man, and he does not take advantage of anyone. There is karma in many aspects of the film.
There is another religious subtext where the films talks about the concept of swarg (heaven) and narak (hell). When Rosie meets Suri for the first time, he tells her that she is already in hell. Tum pehle se hi narak me ho. She replies that she might be in hell, but she knows the way to heaven. Narak me hun par swarg ka raastha jaanti hun. All these suggest an implicit religiosity in the film, or perhaps, a belief in the existence of a supernatural entity that is looking at everything. 
Rosie is a magical character. Kareena Kapoor had earlier played a prostitute in Sudhir Mishra and Anant Balani's Chameli. There is a hat tip to her old role in Chameli. When Suri takes Mallika to a women's rehabilitation center, he tells her that she should thank Rosie as she told him to rescue her. Mallika replies that she does not know any Rosie. She says, "Hamare dhande me toh aise hi hai. Aaj Rosie, toh kal Chameli." Both the names are named after flowers, Rosie being the one in Talaash, and Chameli in Chameli. In some ways, the premise of grief is present in both the films. Aman (Rahul Bose) is left depressed after the death of his wife. He helps rescue Chameli from the clutches of Usman. In turn, Chameli helps bring a change in him, where he finally goes to meet his wife's father-in-law whom he had been avoiding since his wife's death. Aman's life has parallels with Suri in many ways, where, like Aman and Chameli, Suri and Rosie help each other in letting go, and bring a new perspective to life. While the portrayal of Chameli was a bit garish, Rosie is much more mellowed but has a lot of mystery, and thoughtfulness. Who would not fall in love with her?
There was a supernatural element in Reema Kagti's delightful Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. Aspi (Abhay Deol) and Zara (Minissha Lamba) were both superhumans. Reema Kagti shares a great friendship with Zoya Akhtar. Though both of them wrote their first films independently, at times, Talaash refers some trivia snippets from Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance. Zoya is also the co-writer of Talaash. At one point in Luck By Chance, Zafar Khan (Hrithik Roshan) gets a call from Karan Johar who offers him his film Koi Aane Wala Hai with Shah Rukh because Armaan (a hint for Salman, perhaps) broke his leg. In Talaash, the big film star is also named Armaan Kapoor. Coincidentally, Honey Irani's first film (Zoya Akhtar's mother) as a director was also titled Armaan. Then, there is the character of Pinki in Luck By Chance, and Nirmala in Talaash. Both of them played by Sheeba Chaddha. Pinki is mocked at by her sister's friends because of her simplicity, and her lack of power as compared to others. She is not appreciated by her husband, who is secretly having a relationship with Sona. Nirmala is an ageing prostitute, who is slowly moving towards the point where she is being replaced by younger girls. Shashi ridicules her, and calls her an old hag. In both the characters, she gets the sympathy of the audience, and she is mocked for something that is not under her control. But the films treat her humanely. Pinki is the one who brings Vikram's picture to Romi Rolly Productions, changing the fortunes of everyone, and Nirmala escapes with the money and a silent acnowledgment of Taimur's trust and love. And, finally, the motif of flowers. Each scene in Luck By Chance had some kind of association with a flower. There were flowers literally everywhere in the film. The significance of them is not explained though. In Talaash, too, there is the motif of flowers, relating to the presence of Rosie everywhere. Be it her floral print dresses, her ring, the neon light signs saying Rose, the flowers strewn at Rosie's jagah, the cushions; all these flowers point to the presence of Rosie. She is not there, but still she is there. Perhaps, like the fragrance of a flower, and her name Rosie (belonging to that of a rose). Her real name was Simran, but it is only after her death, she takes the name of Rosie. 
The women characters in the film are shown to be stronger despite their circumstances. Roshni deals with grief much better than Suri. She talks, she shares, and she understands. She is more open to accepting ideas. Suri keeps everything bottled up, never shares anything, and blames himself. Statistics show that more men suffer from depression than the women. Rosie helps Suri to come out of his depression. They have an emotional affair. Roshni knows that he is spending time with someone. Would Suri be all right if he got to know Roshni was having an emotional affair? Rani Mukherji's Paheli explored this aspect where her character has an affair with a shapeshifting ghost. The other women in the film demonstrate a strength of character, while the men are weaker, and untrustworthy. Taimur does not trust anyone except Nirmala. Shashi tells everything to Mallika. Frenny helps Roshni communicate with her dead son. Roshni's friend listens to her. Roshni's psychologist is also a woman. When Suri takes Mallika to a rehabilitation center, he tells her the in charge is a good lady. Even Madam, who runs a brothel, exerts power in front of the policeman till they threaten her. The men on the other hand can't be trusted. Suri had to confiscate the mobile phones of his subordinates as they were leaking the information of the murder to the media. 
At times, there are many similarities between Badlapur and Talaash. Both films are based on the theme of grief of a parent losing a child. In Talaash, Taimur had a special relationship with a prostitute Nirmala, like his relationship with Jhimli in Badlapur. There is a theme of revenge, where Rosie wanted to avenge her death, like the theme of revenge where Raghu can't come to terms with Liak killing his family in Badlapur. There are also similar instances of using dogs as well in both the films. 
Talaash is a treasure trove of movie references. At one point, when Suri goes to rescue Mallika from the goons of Madam, there is a poster of the film School Spirit. The film is a 1985 comedy film about a college student who is killed in a car accident and returns as a ghost to haunt his school. Perhaps, Rosie had also seen School Spirit where she is killed in a car accident, and she comes back as a spirit.
Apart from School Spirit, there is another meta trivia associated with Talaash. Frenny's full name is Frenny Mistry, alluding to the mystery of her activities. When Suri, Roshni, and Frenny attend a function in their society, the children are dancing to the song Jhalak Dikhla Ja from another thriller Aksar, as if there is connect of the song to some supernatural element in the film. Suri and Roshni go to watch Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal 3, if only to forget for some time the immense grief of their son’s death. No greater way to escape than Hindi films. There is a whole set of films and songs of the '90s in the film used at different parts. When Taimur goes to Madam's place, the song Nighahen Kyon Churaati Hai from Dulhe Raja plays in the background. When Tamiur meets Suri for the first time, Aande Aande from Angaaray plays. The theater outside Madam's plays Hathkadi and Amanat. Nirmala and Shashi listen to Aankhon Ki Gustaakhiyaan from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. The pub in Hotel Lido plays Mar Jawa from Fashion. I don't think there is some obvious meaning of these songs, but it is worth noting that places associated with the lower classes are shown songs and films associated with the '90s, as if that world has not moved for them, while the places of the upper classes (housing society, cinemas) are associated with more contemporary songs and films. In addition, Arman Kapoor's room has posters of Eraserhead, Fargo, Run Lola Run, The Deer Hunter, and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. 
There is just so much to admire in the movie. The background score is wonderfully soothing, and so are the songs. Rani Mukerji is stunning, and she is a treat to watch. There is a particular scene during the song Jee Le Zara where Suri and Roshni look at each other, but their spirits embrace each other. It conveys so much on how we hesitate to act when a gap comes betwen relationships. The conversations between Rosie and Suri are splendid. Sitting by the sea side, talking about life, with lingering silences and inviting gaze towards each other, it is as if they are in some kind of a utopian land, where nothing else matters. It is this calmness that brought the haunted Suri sleep for the first time, and he is finally able to forget his inner turmoil. In these busy times of jhooti muskaanein, we are undertaking a talaash for the same calmness that can bring us a peaceful sleep. Until then, loneliness is our companion. Phir bhi hai tanhaayi.

Other Reading:
1. On Flowers in Luck By ChanceLink
2. On BadlapurLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Hum jaise log toh ginti me hi nahi aate, aur jo hai hi nahin, vo gayab kaise ho sakte hain?"
—Rosie, Talaash

P.S.—Kareena Kapoor has starred in another film called Talaash—The Hunt Begins that was released in 2003, and starred Akshay Kumar along with her.


  1. Awesome as always. The badlapur and luck by chance reference. The karma thing u explained. I also agree that Rani MukherjI is stunning . The sea scene u explained it was so deep. Loved it . Thank you

    1. Thank you, again, for reading and commenting :)


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