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Suspense At Play

Friday, November 30, 2012
By Deepa Gahlot

From all accounts (unconfirmed till the first show unfolds), Reema Kagti’s Aamir Khan starrer Talaash is a suspense film. Now this is a tricky genre not favoured except by the most skilled and confident filmmakers—like the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock—because of the loss of repeat value. It is believed that once the identity of the killer (and most suspense films have a murder in them) is revealed, it will kill the pleasure of seeing the film. In Hitchcock’s films there is so much more on offer that the whodunit part of is not that important, the howdunit is.

Hitchcock’s quote on the difference between surprise and suspense is widely quoted. He said, “Imagine that a bomb is under a table and it explodes. Boom! You have surprise and a few moments of screen emotion. Now imagine showing the audience the bomb under the table — and the people at the table chatting away, perfectly unaware of the danger. Every moment yields emotion. Instead of three seconds of surprise, you have three minutes of suspense, and what’s more, you place the audience squarely in sympathy with the characters, whoever they might be.”

And this sort of hold-your-breath suspense only the best filmmakers can convey; most are happy making thrillers with a lot of gun shots, fights and an item number or two.

The greatest suspense film, made in Bollywood is undoubtedly Vijay Anand’s Jewel Thief. So meticulously constructed is the plot, and so brilliantly crafted the film, that anyone watching for the first time would never guess what’s going on. And even after the truth is revealed— and is it a cheat— every viewing of the film is as enjoyable as the first. Hitchcock had coined the term ‘McGuffin’ for something that the entire story is built around and yet has no real relevance. Vijay Anand used it to great effect in Jewel Thief. A cop’s son is made to believe that he has a double, who is a jewel thief, and a complicated web of intrigue woven around this mysterious duplicate, and in the end it is revealed (spoiler alert) that there is no double, it was all an elaborate hoax. Added to it is an intoxicating soundtrack and the film’s worth many repeat viewings. Sujoy Ghosh used a similar technique in his Kahaani, in which the McGuffin is the missing husband, whose pregnant wife (Vidya Balan) comes looking for him, but (spoiler alert) there is no husband, and her identity is an elaborate hoax too. And again, knowing the end does not diminish the fun of watching this film.

If Talaash really has more to it than Aamir Khan’s mega-stardom, then it will join this small and select list of memorable suspense films. It apparently has a great McGuffin… in a few more hours we’ll know.

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