One of the hottest tickets at the BFI London Film Festival next month will be for the UK premiere of crime drama Talvar, which stars Irrfan Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma in the lead roles.
Based on real-life events, the twisty film has been generating a lot of excitement and attempts to shed light on some unanswered questions connected to the murder case.
Eastern Eye’s Asjad Nazir caught up with director Meghna Gulzar to find out more about the movie everyone is talking about and to discuss cinema.
What drew you towards the subject of Talvar?
Talvar is a fictional dramatisation of a case that grabbed the attention of Indian society, media and the country as a whole in 2008. The twists and turns in this real-life event unfolded like a dramatic screenplay. And in spite of a long trial and a guilty verdict, there is no real sense of closure. To explore these unanswered questions is what drew me to the subject.
Tell us a little about the story?
The story follows the events in the case – a 14-year old girl was found murdered in Delhi and the domestic help was missing. He was presumed guilty until his corpse was discovered the next day. Then began the waves of investigation and multiple theories by the different investigating agencies as to who the killer was. One theory was that the parents did it. Another pointed to the father’s compounder (the father was a dentist) and an accomplice of his. The parents were charged with murder and have been sentenced to life in prison.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the film made?
The biggest challenge was keeping my objectivity and neutrality while making the film. As the story covers all the investigations, it presents each team’s point of view. And there was enough conviction of each team in their respective theories.
Right from the script level, (writer) Vishal Bhardwaj and I were certain that we wanted to maintain objectivity. So also, in execution, directing the actors, that balance was always on the top of my mind. It was tough on the actors too – to portray characters that swung between guilt and innocence. We all strove to keep a neutrality in the storytelling and let the audience come to their own conclusions. Also, this is not a biopic. It is a film about people who are still alive. And that too, puts the film in a very sensitive space.
You have assembled a great cast. How important was it to get the correct actors?
Getting the right actors was as important as getting the right producers (Junglee Pictures and Vishal Bhardwaj) and a great team of technicians. The film is in a very real space. Therefore, it became very important to cast actors who become the characters and shed their popular personas.
Thankfully for us, all the actors we approached loved the subject and the script, had conviction in our intent and gave themselves completely to the film. The casting director Honey Trehan has excelled himself in the casting of this film.
Have you been surprised by how much attention the film has generated before the release?
Pleasantly surprised, yes. It is the lack of closure in the case itself – the continuing search for answers despite the trial and verdict – is also what has piqued interest in this film.
Do you have a favourite moment in the movie?
There are several, actually. But I would rather talk about it after the movie has been seen.
How did you feel about Talvar being selected for the Toronto and London Film Festivals?
Talvar’s selection in the Toronto and London Film Festivals is what actually broke the film open – it was going to be out there much sooner than we had expected. Our scheduled release was always October 2. It was a moment of great pride and immense gratitude to be selected – it is a reward for all the hard work each and every member on the film has put in. And it is a story that must be told, must be heard and must be seen.
Have the high expectations made you nervous at all?
Of course, as it would any filmmaker. (Smiles) But it is an excited nervousness and I’m constantly being told to cherish it. And that’s what I am doing.
Is this an exciting time for Indian cinema and for filmmakers with so many subjects being tackled?
This is a great time for Indian cinema with the spectrum of films being made and genres explored. And it is because both the audience and the filmmakers/producers have evolved tremendously to break the paradigms of conventional Indian cinema.
Which is your all-time favourite movie?
I don’t have just one because I keep growing and changing as a viewer. So also films keep evolving – the language of cinema keeps changing.
Finally, why do you love cinema?
The easiest answer would be because I was born into it [Meghna is the daughter of actress Raakhee and lyricist and director Gulzar]. But no, I think the visual medium is so powerful and effective. It makes it that much more vulnerable because it must be used correctly. Conscientiously it can generate extreme responses – you either hate a film or love it. It often shapes public opinion and entertains too, livening up a viewer’s dreary day.
Since I always had creative leanings, I knew I wanted to do something with the visual medium. So I have made documentaries, music videos, corporate films and was fortunate to be given opportunities to express my creativity in feature films as well.
Talvar is being screened at The BFI London Film Festival, which will run from October 7-18. To book tickets or for more information about the line-up, log onto www.bfi.org.uk/lff or call 020 7928 3232 between 10am-8:30pm.