Readers Write In #334: On ‘Talaash’…of ‘The Vanished’

Posted on January 31, 2021

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(by AnJo)

(Spoilers on ‘The Vanished’ and ‘Talaash’)

Very recently, I watched ‘The Vanished’ on Netflix and was struck by the similarities of the so-called other’s presence and importance in our lives: On how the process of ‘comprehending’ an event and wiggling out of it is so difficult for some people. There is a world of difference and a perennial conflict between the way the brain comprehends, and the heart comprehends a devastating event. The heart struggles more and leaves the brain even more…helpless.

In ‘The Vanished’ a couple, Paul (Thomas Jane) and Wendy (Anne Heche) driving to Tuscaloosa, AL, decide to venture for the Thanksgiving weekend to a not-so-famous camping spot by the beautiful lake for an R&R, along with their ten-year-old daughter Taylor. During their journey in their RV, there are joyful scenes of the couple singing together with Taylor their favorite song ’99 Bottles of Beer.’ [It is interesting to note that life and death are discussed through the daughter’s questions on the difference between ‘Memorial Day’ and ‘Veterans Day.’] Just within a matter of a day, the daughter disappears, their dog Lucky meets an unlucky death, and there are ‘questionable’ characters – there’s a junkie and there’s the owner/manager— that make the premise muddled; but not the pace or the confusions within the minds of the Sheriff (Jason Patrick as Sheriff Baker who’s yet to come to peace with his own son’s death) and his deputies. In contrast, there seems to be a violent disagreement and reckless endangerment between Taylor’s parents. [There’s a red herring also thrown in in the form of a raunchy couple parked right next to them as well as a pedophile ring.] When Wendy swallows a grip of Xanax and ends up in the hospital and is finally saved after them being pumped out, there seems to be some sort of closure and sanity for the couple as Paul and a reluctant Wendy decide to discard the memorabilia of Taylor away: It is at this point that Paul says, ‘I cannot play this game anymore.’ There’s a beautiful scene in the hospital after Wendy consumes Xanax and Paul finally agrees to see a ‘grief counselor.’ As he goes on to explain the five stages of grief, one sees the couple completely detached from the words being laid out. One would know why later. They are, right there, caught in those stages and they know it.

In ‘Talaash’, Aamir’s Surjan Singh starts an investigation to decode the veering of a luxury car operated by the well-to-do into the Arabian Sea. A dog howls, it’s a full-moon night, and junkies stare at the accident. Aamir uses this case as a cope-up mechanism to somehow try and emotionally compensate for his son’s death by drowning in a lake. He holds himself primarily responsible since, according to him, he was irresponsible and wasn’t paying attention to his son’s misadventures at the lake. Surjan and his wife Rani are trying their best to somehow come out of this emotionally harrowing loop of a tragedy. While Aamir uses the cases, Rani, a science teacher, tries witchcraft and other ‘super-natural’ things as well. Surjan tries to talk about ‘logic’ with his wife regarding her surrendering to the super-natural but he is getting sucked into the supernatural at the same time. It is a fine journey for the audience to then walk parallelly with Aamir’s character and find the ‘unknown’ source behind the hints. These hints point toward a greater metaphorical meaning of how society operates and how there are people who are forgotten and apparently don’t matter. There is a sort of ‘catharsis’ in the end in broad daylight when Aamir cries his heart out. But is that truly the end? If one watches the credits roll and sees the scene after, where a pole is dug that has on its post ‘A-Final.’ Of course, if I had paid attention to the film, right in the opening credits wherein the song ‘Muskanee Jhoothi hain’ there’s a line that captures the very essence of the film: Joh Rooh Pyaasi hai jisme udaasi hai woh hai ghoomti, sabko Talaash wohi (The soul that has pain beneath roams around and that’s what everyone searches for), I could have probably known in which direction the film is headed toward).

The unifying factors in both these films are, of course, death and its implications, and primarily, water as a metaphor. It is important to note the role that water plays in these movies. The tears from the eyes merge onto the lakes, the seas, and the oceans and the crests and troughs of the waves, thence, represent the emotional swelling or the lows of the human. Most filmmakers have considered water as an immersing source for emotions; especially when it comes to those emotions that handle painful experiences. Both the above films aren’t different. The films don’t talk to the characters as much as they talk to the audience consumption regarding the fragility of those emotions since those drops are but merely a part of the huge body of water. The over-arching theme in these films is not about the mystery, but about the facts that the living has to face after a dear one’s death. It’s about ways of coping. Nobody knows what the person that’s dead has gone through in his or her final moments. We have all heard or read that they see their life-span flash before their eyes. Nobody has lived death to jot down one’s experiences. But one surely has known what the living close-ones go through. It takes months, years, and even then, there might be folks who could probably never come to terms with it. When these films are viewed through the above lenses, it changes the way we saw and understood ‘Talaash.’ In a way, this type of viewing kills, and rightly so, the fact-finding nerve in us that bogs us down and makes us miss the forest for the trees. It is no longer important how a car got there or how a person is sitting there. They should be the least of the audience’s concerns. The parents in ‘The Vanished’ and in ‘Talaash’ go through a journey of pain, discovery, and catharsis. In ‘The Vanished’, because of its open ending, the catharsis part doesn’t work, but the journey goes on…