Based on the controversial Noida double murder case of 2008, Meghna Gulzar’s ‘Guilty’ falls between an unresolved whodunnit and social commentary.
The brutal murder of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar and the parents held responsible for the apparent ‘honour killing’ was sensationalised by the Indian media, blatantly feeding into the voyeuristic appetite of millions of television viewers.
While the case hung suspended between police procedure and judicial enquiry, a nation entered this middle class home and ripped apart any sense of dignity or privacy.
Writer Vishal Bhardwaj takes the ‘Rashomon’ route to narrate the incident through different perspectives of the accused. The real life case lies unresolved, truth evades several enquiry probes, justice and law lie defeated.
The scene of crime is revisited and reconstructed as each accused throws up a contradictory angle.
This fictionalised thriller is based on one of the most controversial and intriguing murder cases in recent Indian history. This is ready stuff for gritty tightrope drama but the treatment and pace falters.
As real as constructed-for-camera drama can appear, the sequence unfolds repeatedly.
Helmer Meghna Gulzar keeps characters at bay and there is no empathy built for any.
The victim’s mother Nupur (Konkana Sen Sharma) and father Rajesh (Neerja Kabi) play out their sketchy roles like wooden characters. It is a sad waste of acting talent as there is no inward subjective space offered.
The only character who negotiates layered space is Irrfan Khan’s CDI cop Ashwin Kumar. Brought into the case with reluctance, Irrfan’s wry humour, sceptical and sadistic interrogations engage us much more than the case itself.
Virtuoso actors, Irrfan and Tabu create a convincing relationship in just two scenes but their story finds no organic space in the larger narrative.
The most convincing and assured sequence emerges at the end in a round table gathering of investigators, each running down the other shadowing a larger political tension between police departments, judiciaries and government officials.
The more convincing characters are the local Noida cops (Gajraj Rao, Prakash Belwadi) who callously destroy vital evidence and open the path to what many believe, was a deliberate miscarriage of justice.
The very premise of a middle class girls’ murder in an honour killing is ready meat for the home audience and the diaspora. The rest of the world will also watch with curious eyes.
And the repeated revisiting of the bloodied bodies and the bedroom whet the very voyeurism which the electronic media has milked over the years.
Despite an uncomfortable premise and unsustained narrative pace, ‘Talvar’ does throw up questions about India’s crime and justice machinery, about private lives, scandals and public verdicts.
The sword of justice manages a thrust or two, leaving the viewer unsettled and questioning.