Aamir Khan seems to be the one superstar of Indian film to consistently get his movies into the American export market. Ever since the Ray era cricket epic “Lagaan” (2001), his movies have shown up here, reaching the vast Indian diaspora of North America.
But it's hard to say if he's choosing his subjects with more of an eye toward the West, or if these seemingly Westernized projects (“Like Stars on Earth” was one) are what sell back on the Subcontinent. With every import, these polished, well-acted comedies and melodramas show more signs of Hollywood-style storytelling and American film genre inspiration.
“Talaash,” his latest, has Khan playing a troubled but dogged police inspector trying to get to the bottom of a freak auto accident that killed a famous Bollywood star. That takes the cop into the seedy underworld of New Delhi, meeting junkies, pimps and prostitutes, trying to wring the truth out of poor people who don't see the police as looking out for their interests.
It doesn't help that the cops are prone to slap around the powerless when they want information.
Inspector Sekhawat broods over the case, and grieves for a son that drowned. He takes entirely too much interest in a glamorous hooker (Kareena Kapoor) who digs a man in a mustache. She has more than just information the inspector is interested in. His wife (Rani Mukerji) seeks solace in a medium who says she can speak to the dead child. The inspector keeps (chaste) company with a call girl.
So much of this case doesn't add up. The dead star was in the bad part of town. He'd withdrawn a large sum of money. He didn't have his driver or “spot boy” (assistant) with him. He had met a pimp, who is now laying low, trying to stay out of the investigation.
And he was rich and famous. What was he doing driving a Hyundai? OK, that's more my question than one for the cops.
This patchwork script had a certain promise to it, packed as it is with colorful characters that aren't developed, story threads that don't really lead anywhere. (A character with AIDS is introduced and abandoned.)
The film also has a decidedly Eastern sense of pace. It's slower than slow, with meaningful pauses for music montages, slow-motion appreciations of Kapoor's curves and misty-eyed memories of the past, back when the inspector's little boy was still alive.
The dialogue, in subtitled Hindu and English, is nothing worth quoting, but the acting is good, the settings reasonably exotic and some scenes develop a little tension. That dissipates as quickly as it appears. Any film that moves this slowly is begging us to guess where it's going an hour before it gets there. And even though this was built with an intermission in mind (Indian films often exceed three hours), at two hours and 19 minutes it seems about an hour too long to support even this meandering plot.