Talvar (2015): Meghna Gulzar's propaganda film about the 2008 Noida double murder case

An underwhelming cinematic experience

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Talvar (2015) - By Meghna Gulzar
Our Rating: 5.5
IMDb Ratings: 8.6
Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Konkana Sen Sharma, Neeraj Kabi
Country: India
Language: Hindi English
Runtime: 132 min
Color: Color

Summary: An experienced investigator confronts several conflicting theories about the perpetrators of a violent double homicide.

Talvar, directed by Meghna Gulzar, is a docudrama cum murder mystery film based on the 2008 Noida double murder case wherein 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar and 45-year-old Hemraj Banjade, Talwar family’s domestic help, were found murdered. The case aroused great public interest thanks to the intensive media coverage that it received. After a series of investigations, first by the local police and then by two separate CBI teams, Aarushi’s father Rajesh was named as the sole suspect but the CBI filed a closure report due to insufficient evidence. But a special CBI court converted the CBI closure report into a charge sheet and ordered proceedings against the Talwars following which the couple were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The case is currently pending in the Allahabad High Court.  

Irrfan Khan in Meghna Gulzar's Talvar
Vishal Bhardwaj, who has written the movie's screenplay, is hailed as one of the best filmmakers working in Bollywood today. Bhardwaj’s morbid obsession for dark themes and controversial subjects never ceases to amaze this critic. In Haider, among other things, he touched upon the delicate subject of Kashmir and ended up presenting the Indian Army in a rather bad light. Similarly in Talvar, Bhardwaj has put his scanner on the CBI. Now, Haider was supposed to be an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet but Bhardwaj latched on the opportunity to unleash a hidden propaganda to rebuke the tactics adopted by the Indian Army to crush the rising militancy in the Kashmir Valley, back in the 1990s.

Neeraj Kabi in Talvar
In Talvar, Bhardwaj once again tries to lead the viewer in a certain direction, perhaps driven by a hidden agenda to change the public opinion about the Talwar couple convicted for the dual murder of Aarushi and Hemraj. As a matter of fact, Talvar reminds this critic of the propaganda films of old like Battleship Potemkin—a revolutionary propaganda film made by the luminary Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein to evoke sympathy for the rebellious sailors of the Battleship Potemkin and hatred for their overlords—and Triumph of the Will—a powerful film made by the German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl at the behest of Adolf Hitler to perpetuate the Nazi propaganda. While Talvar may not have been made in the same vein as those two monumental films, the propaganda is still quite evident.

Konkona Sen Sharma in Talvar
Now, there have been many who have compared narrative of Talvar with that of the Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. Well, it appears that they don’t have a clue what Kurosawa tries to depict in his groundbreaking masterpiece. The fact of the matter is that Kurosawa never makes an attempt to lead the viewer. He just shows us the same event from four different points of view. Kurosawa doesn't feed us with lies, only the different faces of truth. Talvar, on the other hand, is a completely different affair. While the movie, its propaganda aside, is not really bad but one finds it rather difficult to appreciate its desperation as a work of cinema. Everything about the movie looks rather forced, as if someone is knocking at the doors of creativity in a hope to conjure up a semblance of realism. Alas, a craving for realism in an attempted "Whodunit" doesn't sound like the best idea!

A Still from Meghna Gulzar's Talvar
Overall, Talvar comes across as a curious case of hits and misses. While the screenplay, despite being laced with a hidden propaganda, is quite solid, the direction is aesthetically weak and lacks the creative imagination one generally associates with the films of Vishal Bhardwaj. In the acting department both Neeraj Kabi and Konkona Sen Sharma disappoint. While Kabi seems to be missing his mojo (an actor of his caliber certainly deserves meatier caricatures), Sharma looks a bit out of place. And while Irrfan Khan fails to bring his A-game to the table, his performance nonetheless is the movie's strongest point (his scenes with Tabu, who makes a guest appearance, are a treat to watch), especially thanks to his characteristic wry humour and wit that offer some comic relief at regular intervals. But even that looks a bit forced. Don't agree? Just consider Irrfan (and another character in the movie) referring to pornography as "ashleel sahitya" and the classic missionary position as "dharam pracharak aasan" in one of the sequences. While the movie may succeed in its motive to change the public opinion about the Talwar couple, it fails to pack a punch as work of cinematic art. One wonders how different the end product would have been had Bhardwaj himself donned the director’s hat. In its present form, however, Talvar, giving its scope and promise, proves to be quite an underwhelming experience.

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your insightful comments are highly appreciated!

Note: A version of this review was re-published in the Huffington Post.


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  1. Hi,

    I don't agree totally with your review about the movie.

    Yes there is indeed a bias in the movie regarding the claimed innocence of the parents, but the talk of "hidden propaganda" seems too overboard. I don't see any need of bringing references of propaganda movies like Battleship Potemkin or Triumph of Will in order to compare it with a movie like Talvar, which is essentially about a murder mystery in a upper-middle class family, than a larger hidden agenda attached to it. Even your reference to Vishal Bhardwaj's movie Haider is totally out of the place and ridiculous as the director of the movie is Meghna Gulzar and not Vishal Bhardwaj, who has only worked on the screenplay.

    When you say that, "While the movie may succeed in its motive to change the public opinion about the Talwar couple, it fails to pack a punch as work of cinematic art.", I am not sure what you mean by that. It is a movie based on a real-life incident and it doesn't give you much scope in terms of exaggerating certain details or modifying the ending. Most of the movie goers know what would be the ending of the movie.

    It seems that you wanted to write a page long review about the movie and you have just elongated it with unnecessary details, than actual analyzing the movie in a greater detail.

    That's all I have to say for now.

    Email: onlynishank@gmail.com

  2. Nishant, first and foremost, this is my blog and so it's not that I am desperate to use space. I have written 3000 word long articles in past... you can call me verbose, alright, but I don't write for the sake of writing it (propaganda films used to be a separate genre in the good old days and so talking about a seminal work like Battleship Potemkin is a must when trying to explain what the idea of a propaganda film is all about). Anyway, here's my response to your other queries:

    Majority of the people missed the propaganda in Talvar. All I see is people raving the movie's objectivity which completely escaped me. Throughout the film I thought the makers were driven by some ulterior motive. While everyone has the right to do as he/she pleases, especially an artist, I also feel that a film projected as a docudrama shouldn't be as biased as Talvar. The film crushes and ridicules all other possibilities and advocates that the Talwars are innocent. Bhardwaj and Co want to be the judge and the jury. While it does show the different possibilities, it also weakens the logic... as a docudrama, it was only supposed to present facts. The batchmate remark was very insulting in my opinion (that CDI guy was doing it to prevent his Sikh batchmate)... also, the final scene that shows the father showering Shruti with love was very much in sync with the film's propaganda. In fact, Irrfan's character is more or less the Point of View character and we see most of the film from his perspective.

  3. Thanks for sharing your views so passionately! But let me tell you that even a small trace of evidence admissible in court is good enough to start a judicial proceeding. If the CBI court's findings were so far off from the reality why didn't the Allahabad High Court grant bail to the Talwars? Subjectivity is fine but an artist should also be responsible enough while tackling with issues that may affect the actual outcome of an important case. Imagine someone tomorrow making a movie proving Manu Sharma's innocence in Jessica Lal's case? Talwars' actions have always been suspicious in my opinion but the movie never tries to touch upon that. I have seen so many police procedures (movies) and critiques on judiciary and police (Chaitanya Tamhane's Court is a great example) and in my opinion Talvar has nothing new to offer. But I do respect your views and I am sure that you have your own reasons to like the film. So, let's agree to disagree on this one! :-)

  4. I watched this movie yesterday. No servant can murder in this manner as they are suggesting in this movie. People at that level will break very easily with police interrogation, let alone CBI. You do not need narco tests for that.
    Furthermore, the timing of the film just before the Talwar's appeal hearing before the Allahabad High Court points to serious propoganda and mischief. The Talwar couple would have dragged this movie to court had it not been the case. At every instant they were filing appeals after appeals in the Supreme Court, why not now?
    Also, no parent will allow a 14 year old girl to be looked after by male servants in this manner. These guys had no clue what was happening in there own house. It is a fact that her laptop was full of filth, while her parents were busy doing what?

  5. Thanks for your deeply insightful views... I couldn't have put it in better words!

  6. I'm not sure where you get your information from, but there are a lot of assumptions and some false information here. The contents of her laptop (did she even have a laptop?) have never been disclosed, so the accusation of filth on it is wrong. Second, male servants did not look after her alone - after school she was at her grandparents home which was a matter of metres away. There is no basis for saying the Talwars were anything but normal upper middle class professionals prior to this tragedy. As far as timing, the appeal has been pending for almost two years and given the backlog in Allahabad no one yet knows when the appeal will be heard, so no one has timed anything.


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