Bollywood’s ‘Talvar’ does a ‘Rashomon’ on Aarushi murder case

September 16, 2015
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One of India’s most sensational murder cases is at the centre of a new Bollywood film that attempts to deconstruct a crime that transfixed the country and dominated headlines for weeks.

Talvar,” based on the double murder of teenager Aarushi Talwar and manservant Hemraj Banjade, is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival and will open in Indian cinemas on Oct. 2.

In 2008, Aarushi was found with her throat slit in her bedroom in the Delhi suburb of Noida. Her parents, both doctors, were later convicted of killing her and Hemraj. They are currently in prison and have appealed against the verdict.

Public opinion on the case has been vocal, both for and against Rajesh and Nupur Talwar. The couple insists they are victims of a botched investigation, first by the local police and later by the CBI, India’s federal investigating agency.

Earlier this year, journalist Avirook Sen, who had covered the trial for a newspaper, wrote a book arguing that the Talwars were innocent and the CBI chose to buy into the narrative of middle-class depravity and morality instead of looking for hard evidence.

Director Meghna Gulzar says her new film does not attempt to take sides. Like the 1950 film “Rashomon“, “Talvar” looks at the crime from multiple perspectives – that of the parents and the CBI – and leaves it to the “sensitized viewer” to draw their own conclusion.

The film-maker said she was fascinated by the case when it first came to light, but it was only when writer Vishal Bhardwaj came to her with the script and her own subsequent research did she realize the complexities of the case.

“My biggest takeaway from this case is that there is no finality. Even when there were theories floating around, they were always kacchi pakki si (half-baked),” she said in an interview.

“I hope my film starts the journey towards closure,” said Gulzar, whose first two films were a family drama and a romance.

Neeraj Kabi and Konkona Sen Sharma play the Talwars while Irrfan Khan is an investigator in the film. “Talvar” is not the first Bollywood film based on the case, but is apparently the first to be vetoed by the Talwar family.

The lawyer for the Talwars has been quoted as saying the family had seen both the film and the script, but director Gulzar denies this, saying the Talwars must have seen the film’s posters and trailer. She says the team met a “lot of people” during their research, but not after the film was complete.

“I tried very hard to not let my slant come in the way. It was an exercise everyday that I went on the set till I came home to keep my objectivity intact,” she said.

The film-maker said there was no moral dilemma as her script was completely objective and unbiased and the case isn’t being heard in any court right now. The Talwars have filed an appeal against their conviction, which is yet to be admitted by the Allahabad High Court.

“It’s a script, these are characters and at this point in the script, this is what they are,” said Gulzar. “I didn’t let the baggage of reality come in between.”

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay, and Tony @tonytharakanThis article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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