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Howler hunt!

Aamir Khan and twists go a long way back. No one knew he was a cop in Sarfarosh. No one knew about the cricket match in Lagaan. No one knew he was an impostor in 3 Idiots.

And no, you don’t know the twist in Talaash.

Unless, of course, you’ve seen it for yourself or someone who’s seen the film has shared the secret with you. All those SMS forwards are as far from the truth as are rumours that Talaash’s storyline is similar to Kahaani. They both have twists in the end, yes, but while the one in Kahaani lifts the film, the one in Talaash brings it crashing down. Yes, the twist in the text was so much better.

Reema Kagti’s second film after that promising debut in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd starts off confidently. The opening credits open up the world of the film, trudging through the seedy lanes and bylanes of Mumbai dotted with pimps and hookers. There’s crime in the air and soon a car powers down the sea-facing road, leaps in thin air and dives into the Arabian Sea.

He was a Bollywood star, and so it sparks city-wide hysteria and sets the stage for Inspector Surjan S. Shekhawat aka Suri (Aamir Khan) to arrive on the scene. Even as he sets about sieving through the secrets and lies that crowd the case, his own past — his inability to save his eight-year-old son from drowning — keeps haunting him and pushes him further and further away from his wife Roshni (Rani Mukerji).

Even as the worlds, both inside and outside, keep shutting down around him, a sexy streetwalker called Rosy (Kareena Kapoor) helps Suri make headway in the case. She leads him on to the wily Temur (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the neighbourhood tramp with the limp, who might not be directly involved in the murder but knows more than others.

Despite creating the perfect mood for murder and mystery (production designer Sharmishta Roy and cinematographer K. Mohanan), Talaash keeps starting and stopping in the first half in a constant fight between plot-building and character-developing. When the film immerses completely in the mystery, it’s terrific, often reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s chilling The Conversation in its style of going back to a moment again and again and peeling off new layers each time.

Talaash grips you, then lets you go and grips you again to let you go once more but the first hour does enough to make you come back for half two. The convoluted plotting takes a back seat in the second half as Suri’s guilt and loneliness float to the fore and the film starts moving away from a murder mystery. Just when you are sure that the big twist is going to come and redeem it all, comes the rude joke of the year.

Reema Kagti has said that she and Zoya Akhtar wrote Talaash some nine years ago. After you have seen Talaash you can easily figure out which Hollywood film, a rage around that time, might have inspired them to script this one. The story is not the same, the device is. Anything more and anyone in the right spirit can sense the twist.

But, unlike the film-we-cannot-name (yet), Talaash’s twist does not belong to the same film. In the last 15 minutes, the entire genre is upturned and the two genres on the two sides of the twist don’t mix well at all. Also, the post-twist genre has been abused so badly in our cinema in the past and even in recent times, that you just cannot take it seriously.

Perhaps, most importantly, you just can’t associate Aamir Khan with a twist like this. His stardom today has become synonymous with such sense and sensibility, reality and rationality, that digesting the Talaash twist and accepting the film becomes that much more challenging. You can see why so many rejected Reema-Zoya’s script; you can’t fathom why Aamir of all people picked it.

Because it’s obviously no great showcase of Aamir the actor even though he is very, very good throughout. He brings out the bewilderment beautifully and Suri’s guilt-garnished vulnerability is succinctly expressed in Aamir’s studied craft. Lightyears away from the roles she has been doing of late, Rani’s performance as the mourning mother trying to win her husband back is heartwrenching. You don’t need an Aiyyaa, lady!

But it is Kareena Kapoor who steals the show. As the mysterious lady who drifts in and out of nowhere and mouths the corniest lines with a naughty nonchalance, she brings an unseen mix of oomph and emotion that becomes the centrepiece of Talaash. The best moments of the film are the conversations — and the silences — between Suri and Rosy, followed closely by that new genius on the block, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, our very own Verbal Kint [in The Usual Suspects].

How you wish all this awesomeness could have added up to something bigger than the parts. How you wish that it stayed a psychological thriller and didn’t descend to such a silly denouement to tie the loose ends. How you wish that you didn’t have to laugh at an Aamir Khan film like you laughed at a Ra.One or a Kites or an Ek Tha Tiger!

Because it’s the man-who-can-do-no-wrong, the niggling feeling of being let down stays well after leaving the theatre. Why did he have to do this? One may not have fully endorsed Ghajini or even 3 Idiots but their crowd-pleasing content made it evident why he did them. Why this one? What was he thinking? The talaash for this answer haunts you much more than Talaash itself. And no, that answer does not lie within.