Film Review: Talaash

A troubled cop risks his marriage to pursue a case in Mumbai's red-light district.

With three of Bollywood's top stars, and Aamir Khan taking his first leading role in three years, Talaash has been eagerly anticipated. This dark, troubling noir mostly pays off expectations, despite a screenplay that occasionally goes off the rails. Polished and seductive, the film should do extremely well at the box office.

A car veers off a seaside Mumbai road, crashing into the ocean and killing its driver. Other "accidents" have occurred at the same spot. Inspector Surjan Shekhawat (Khan) leads the investigation, questioning the victim's family and friends and later re-enacting the incident in a patrol car.

In the nearby red-light district, Shashi, a low-life pimp, panics when he learns of the accident. He cleans out his stash of money, condemns his girlfriend Mallika to a brothel, and leaves town. But not before Tehmur (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a crippled servant, steals his cellphone SIM card.

Grieving over the recent death of his son Karan in a boating accident, Surjan throws himself into the case, in the process ignoring his wife Roshni (Rani Mukherji). She in turn reaches out to a neighbor who claims to be in touch with Karan's spirit. Is the psychic trying to deceive Roshni?

Clues suggest that Shashi was blackmailing the victim. Surjan questions brothel workers, including the beautiful and enigmatic Rosie (Kareena Kapoor), who taunts the cop during a series of increasingly tantalizing encounters.

As Tehmur contemplates his own blackmail scheme, Roshni and Surjan face the possible end of their marriage. Meanwhile, Rosie flits in and out of Surjan's life, drawing concern from his colleagues.

Directing her second feature, Reema Kagti adroitly juggles competing storylines, building up a sense of menace through Mohanan's atmospheric cinematography and a complex score by Ram Sampath. Just as impressive is the film's sympathetic but realistic view of sex workers. Yes, you can find loose ends here and there, but the mood of unease that percolates throughout Talaash makes up for them.

Khan is impressive in a role that requires restraint to succeed. Seething with guilt, his Surjan is always a step away from losing control, whether facing down suspects or wrestling with his feelings for Rosie. The gorgeous Kapoor is a very convincing femme fatale, while Mukherji is touching as the neglected wife. And Siddiqui takes a smart approach to a role that could have turned into a maudlin caricature.

Not everything works here, but filmmaking this accomplished deserves attention. From its look and score to its twisty plot and excellent acting, Talaash (which means to search or look for) is a very satisfying mystery.