The sixth sense of many Indian scriptwriters is often employed not for an intuitive understanding of character or social conflict, but where and how to steal good ideas from. In Talaash, writers Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar have brazenly filched the narrative innovations of M Night Shyamalan, particularly his penchant of using the supernatural as social commentary on grim reality. Director Kagti then wallpapers the plagiarism by using a faux noir style to describe the seedy underbelly of the world of sex workers in Mumbai.
This is a ‘Night’ film, in more ways than one. Inspector Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) cannot sleep at night, traumatised as he is by the drowning of his son. His wife Roshni (Rani Mukherji), though under psychiatric treatment, is less burdened because she has found a way to communicate with her son through seances conducted by a potty neighbour (Shernaz Patel). This allows her to receive letters ‘written’ by her son from his after-life.
Meanwhile, Shekhawat stays up at night investigating the strange case of a famous Bollywood actor who, one night, for no apparent reason, driving his car, veers off a sea-facing road and plunges into the sea. The leads he picks up on the incident take him to call girls and pimps and hotel receptionists, then finally to a ravishing pick-up called Rosy (Kareena Kapoor).
By the time the two narratives, the husband’s and the wife’s, are connected, the film has lost its audience. Talaash is a dull movie and a large part of the disappointment is in the casting and performance of Aamir Khan. His character occupies some 80 per cent of film time, so Inspector Shekhawat would have to be an interesting guy to hold our attention. On the contrary, he is an obsessive compulsive cipher who walks through the entire movie with one expression, a scowl. Could this be method acting? If it is, Mr Khan had better come up with another method.