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[Y]Watch: Talvar – A Double Murder Mystery That Still Has Us Looking For Answers

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By Ishan Marvel:

On 16 May 2008, 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar was found dead in her bedroom at the Talwars’ flat in Noida, while their domestic help, Hemraj’s body was found on the terrace the next day. The matter was dragged through various CBI investigations and court proceedings, and with the help of constant speculations in the media, it held public interest for a long time. Then, in November 2013, Aarushi’s parents, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were awarded life sentences for the double murder and for destruction of evidence. Their bail pleas have since been dismissed, and their appeal is currently pending at Allahabad high court.

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This then is what ‘Talvar’ is all about: a double-murder mystery based on true events, and for which, we are searching answers to this day. The film begins with a reference to the Telgi (stamp-paper) scam, thus introducing maverick CDI (or CBI) investigator and manic nokia-snake-player, Ashwin Kumar (played by Irrfan Khan), the heroic anti-hero who knows all the tricks except dealing with bureaucracy and an unhappy marriage. Tabu plays Mrs. Kumar, and as you’d expect, for the few minutes of their screentime together, she matches Irrfan’s ability to make not just his character, but the entire situation feel real. Neeraj Kabi and Konkona Sen Sharma, as the Tandons (or Talwars) too, meet the standards expected of them. A big part of why this film works is because of such naturalistic portrayals, supporting cast included. Special mention to Gajraj Rao as sub-inspector Dhaniram, who with his paunch, paan habit, and bumbling-smart-aleck demeanour played the Delhi cop to perfection.

For humour is another strength of the film; and there, Vishal Bhardwaj’s writing shines through in particular: sample Dhaniram in the middle of the crime scene, constantly interrupted by his hanuman chalisa ringtone, and the way he deals with it; or when ‘Tere Honth Raseelay’ is playing in the taxi on the way back from Haridwar with 14-year-old Shruti Tandon’s (Aarushi Talwar) remains; or when the cops are trying to deconstruct an email by Shruti with the help of Chetan Bhagat’s ‘The 3 Mistakes Of My Life’; or a mundane and extended body-dragging scene—all plausible, unforced, and absurd. Technically, the film is sound. The background score, for the most part, is discreet and integrates well with what’s happening on screen. Camera angles have been used well for colouring perspectives, and the editing too is slick. Although the film would have benefitted from being snipped to under two hours.

Then, a tip of the hat to the director, Meghna Gulzar for pulling off what felt like a neat, and fairly objective depiction of the double murder case. (Reminder: we’re talking of a mainstream Bollywood release here, although I wish that would cease to be an easy qualifier someday.) While it’s obvious that the story—like with Avirook Sen’s book, from what I have heard about it—is from the parents’ side, thorough emphasis is laid on the procedural irregularities, botched investigations, and departmental intrigues; how the crime scene was compromised, and the complete lack of hard evidence or reliable witnesses for either side. “Crime scene ko macchhi-bazaar bana rakha hai,” (The crime scene has been made into a fish market) screams Irrfan. In fact, the one clinching piece of evidence in the Tandons’ favour—the “narco test”—is supposed to be inadmissible in court. (Note: graphic scenes of throat-slitting abound.)

The drama reaches a crescendo in the bureaucratic, and climactic face-off between the two CDI teams, which gives us gems such as “dharampracharak awastha” for ‘missionary position’, and for the pithy web of justice: “Kisi bekasoor ko saza milne se acccha hai ki dus gunhegaar chhooth jaayein (It’s better if 10 guilty go scot-free than an innocent being punished).” For the rest, you’d be left guessing between fact and fiction, much like in the actual case. Otherwise, Ashwin Kumar’s roadside-chowmein-chomping-and-drinking-booze-in-a-steel-glass underdog persona prevails. Also, the media games—in the form of vulture-ish TV reporters and cameramen, and opinionated bystander bytes—remain an amusing presence throughout. Among others, a somewhat subdued Arnab Goswami appears, along with a familiar ‘sansanikhej’ (sensational), high-pitched anchor of a popular crime show.

In the end, I left Delite cinema hall after a last glance up at its psychedelic-colour-changing-dome, wondering about the curious case of Aarushi Talwar, even as her parents serve life sentences at Dasna jail in Ghaziabad. Meanwhile, the proverbial sword of justice, as someone quips in the film, remains rusted.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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