Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"One of the bleakest whodunnits to grace our screens for some time, for all its wit and intermittent playfulness, this slice of Noida noir is full of compromised characters."

In 2008, 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar and 45-year-old Hemraj Banjade, her parents' servant, were found murdered in the North Indian city of Noida. Though a large notice at the start assures us that this film is entirely fictional and not intended to depict real people, it's one of four 'fictional' works to bear a very close resemblance to the case (along with another film, a soap opera plot and a novel). Interestingly, it doesn't present any take on the facts of the case as truth, but presents a case for each side by showing us the work of different investigatory teams. If it seems to be biased toward one side, it's difficult, looking at the evidence from the real case, to see how it could have been otherwise.

The dead teenager in this case, Shruti (Alisha Parveen), is first assumed to have been murdered by the servant, but when his body is found on the roof, the lie sliced out of it in a similar way, the plot thickens. Shruti's parents Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) and Nutan (Konkona Sen Sharma) look lost as police officers pour into their house. In that situation it's difficult to know what the officers are doing; they seem very confident, they talk a lot (and sometimes laugh inappropriately), they take pictures and make observations - so it isn't until quite a bit later that it becomes clear how badly they've bungled this essential work and how much important evidence has consequently been lost.

Copy picture

On the basis that there were only believed to be four people in the house that night and two of them are dead, the police decide that what happened must have been an honour killing and - perhaps also motivated by a wish to cover up their failings as quickly and neatly as possible - arrest Ramesh. Then detective Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) arrives and, with his keen observational skills and systematic approach to sleuthing, starts complicating everything.

One of the bleakest whodunnits to grace our screens for some time, for all its wit and intermittent playfulness, this slice of Noida noir is full of compromised characters. Even Kumar lets his increasing obsession with the case lead him astray. Other investigators speculate wildly in an attempt to make their suppositions fit the facts. This emotional unevenness neatly balances the focused vigour of the search for truth, and the two merge as we see different versions of the killings themselves. At times the pace of developments is rapid, at others the investigations stagnate, but director Meghna Gulzar always keeps things interesting. Quirky little details like a late-appointed detective's insistence on taking his child with him to the murder scenes may annoy some viewers but add character to the film and remind us that its subjects are human.

The people originally convicted of Aarushi Talwar's murder are currently appealing. It's a contentious time to release a film like this, but its criticisms of the police handing of the case are important regardless of one's take on the verdict, and it stands up as an impressive piece of cinema in its own right.

Reviewed on: 27 Jan 2016
Share this with others on...
Guilty packshot
Police thriller based on a real-life murder case that caused international controversy.

Director: Meghna Gulzar

Writer: Vishal Bhardwaj

Starring: Irrfan Khan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Neeraj Kabi, Sohum Shah, Atul Kumar, Gajraj Rao, Ayesha Parveen, Tabu

Year: 2015

Runtime: 132 minutes

Country: India

Search database:

If you like this, try: