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Irrfan, Konkona's gripping take on the Aarushi Talwar murder case

In 2008, the murder of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar had stirred the nation. For several months, the case dominated prime time news, as the police were left baffled by the case. We saw this macabre turn of events unfolding on our TV screens, as from one murder the count went up to two, charges were fixed on the servants, and finally Aarushi's parents ended up behind bars. There was a sense of discontent back then, as there is now. The lack of a closure prodded director Meghna Gulzar to take up the story and make a film on it. And the results are pretty impressive in the fact that Talvar leaves the audience disturbed.
The 'open-and-shut case', as the Noida double murder case was described by some people, turned out to be anything but that. After 14-year-old Shruti (Ayesha Parween) is found with her throat slit one morning, the police is called to the crime scene. Parents Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) and Nutan Tandon (Konkona Sensharma) are questioned, the apparently-absconding servant Khempal is called the murderer. As the police get on with hunting for the servant, his body is discovered on the terrace. The initial theory of Khempal-killed-Shruti is turned on its head, and the blame is shifted on to the parents.
Messed up investigations and the unwillingness of the story to get off news channels compels the CDI (Central Department of Investigation) to hand the investigation over to a reluctant Ashwin (Irrfan). In between playing games on his phone, Ashwin shoulders the case and discovers, in his words, that "Crime scene ko machchhi bazaar banake rakh diya tum logo ne!"
Meghna Gulzar takes extra care in treading a middle ground, and leaves the film as open-ended as the real case is. Of course, the filmmakers couldn't draw a conclusion any which way, given that the Aarushi-Hemraj case is sub-judice. The differences of perspectives that the film presents the main story from is a commendable effort by the Talvar makers. The way the case is investigated, albeit on screen, makes your blood boil at times and you snort in disbelief at others.
On their part, the cast has done a jaw-dropping-ly brilliant job with their respective roles. While every person fits into his or her role more or less, Irrfan steals the show. His broken marriage with Reema (Tabu), his sense of humour, his seamless but sudden transformation from a light moment to an intense one - all re-establish his skill as a performer. Irrfan's few scenes with Tabu are a visual delight.
Konkona's Nutan and Neeraj's Ramesh are more than successful in getting their dilemmas on to the screen. As the innocent parents, the two are as believable as while playing criminals guilty of their daughter's murder. Sohum Shah's Vedant and Gajraj Rao's Inspector Dhaniram deserve a special mention, as does Prakash Belawadi.
Vishal Bhardwaj's screenplay tries to stay neutral regarding the various POVs on the case, but at the end of the day, one's emotions do tilt towards the parents and Ashwin. Talvar, in certain ways, reminds one of Raj Kumar Gupta's No One Killed Jessica. The candlelight marches, the 'slow justice is no justice', et al. In addition to Irrfan's investigation of the case, the grand meeting between the two opposing investigating teams merits a standing ovation. The lack of songs in the film helps retain the speed of proceedings.
All said and done, there are those moments where the pace of the largely-gripping narrative slackens. The numerous POVs and the actors playing the same sequences, again, gives the viewer a sense of deja vu.
Meghna Gulzar's Talvar is a disturbing revisiting of the Aarushi-Hemraj murders, one that might just see the public memory digging the remnants of the case out from the depths of oblivion. In all, Talvar needs to be watched, for its performances among other things.