A cop, a housewife and a prostitute get entangled in a mystery that links their lives in unexpected ways.

Thriller aims for something deeper.

This intricately plotted thriller from director Reema Kagti has a weird, ethereal mood. Still, it kicks off as an earthy, real-world police procedural. In the stunning opening, a car races through the night down a Mumbai coast road. Without any warning, and seemingly without reason, the vehicle suddenly swerves off its path, crashes through a wall and plunges into the Arabian Sea. The accident kills a Bollywood star, the kind of character with a spotless reputation. Sent to investigate is Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Aamir Khan). The cops quickly conclude that the death is 'unsolvable’. But in the great tradition of crime thrillers, Surjan’s dogged policeman finds himself haunted by the case. He becomes obsessed with resolving the mystery. As he follows a confusing trail that moves through the city’s power elite and into the poorest districts of his city, Surjan discovers a few clues about himself and how his universe really works. Talaash is a movie with a sound belief in the spiritual. The story presents Surjan as a good man; but his conviction in all things rational limits him. Indeed, he does not permit the important things in life to touch him.

Talaash has a powerful humanism

These two strands of action – Surjan’s spiritual poverty and the central mystery – are yoked together in the movie’s B plot which concerns the untimely death of Surjan’s son, aged 8, in a boating accident.

Surjan deals with the loss by throwing himself into his work. The investigation leads him into the red light district and into a strange but touching relationship with a prostitute called Rosie (Kareena Kapoor) that hints at sex and romance. Meanwhile, Surjan’s wife Shreya aka Roshni (Rani Mukerji) is depressed and heartbroken after the loss of her son (which seems to have occurred in the recent past). Unable to deal with the pressure, Surjan palms her emotional needs off by sending Shreya to a psychiatrist. In touch with her feelings and blessed with an open and intelligent mind, Roshni finds solace with a medium who has the extraordinary ability to communicate directly with her dead son; but fearing disapproval she keeps all this secret from Surjan.

At two hours and twenty minutes, Talaash is packed with a lot of story and incident but it never feels like too much. It’s a good-looking film, shot in a wash of burnt gold and gunmetal black; it’s a style that anchors it in the lived day without making it too romantic or too spooky.

Talaash doesn’t play fast; it’s more of a slow burn. When the action finally explodes, it happens in a great heave of emotion. There are chases – one really great one staged on a commuter train – fight scenes and a superbly staged underwater set piece, but the emphasis is on character.

Morals, ethics, and the spiritual aren’t mere plot devices here; Talaash has a powerful humanism (emphasised by the fact that much of the action takes place in the 'mean streets’ of Mumbai’s red light district where we are constantly reminded that life is indeed so 'cheap’ that it takes a lot of money to buy one’s freedom).

I liked the way that even sordid characters like Tehmur (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a pimp’s flunky – central to the mystery –who thoughtlessly exploits friendship as a means to escape his misery, are accorded dignity. Here, even the 'villains’ are victims of fear and prejudice.

What starts off as a sordid crime story actually evolves into touching story of a marriage that’s fallen into disrepair from suspicion and self-loathing and guilt. The great pleasure of the film is watching how Reema Kagti and co-writer Zoya Akhtar slowly pull the many strands of the action together; the drama takes in standard thriller tropes like blackmail, revenge and cover-ups, and at the same time folds a tale of superstition, fate and faith in the mystic over it all. That’s a sweet and moving blend.