The film is based on a 2008 murder case in Noida, in which 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar was found murdered at her home. The family's missing 45-year-old servant Hemraj was initially sought for the murder, until his dead body was discovered in another part of the building on the following day. The police then suspected Aarushi's parents, Rajesh and Nupur, for the murders. They theorized that Rajesh had murdered the two after finding them in an "objectionable" position, or because Rajesh's alleged extra-marital affair had led to his blackmail by Hemraj and a confrontation with Aarushi. The case was then handed over to a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team led by Arun Kumar, who exonerated the parents, and identified another group of suspects, based on narco tests. The new suspects included a compounder who worked at the Talwars' clinic and two domestic servants who worked in the neighbourhood. However, these suspects were not charged due to insufficient evidence. After Arun Kumar's tenure at CBI ended, the case was transferred to a new CBI team. The new team's investigating officer AGL Kaul believed the parents to be guilty, but his superiors Nilabh Kishore and Javed Ahmed considered the evidence to be insufficient. In its 2010 closure report, the new CBI team identified Rajesh Talwar as the sole suspect, but recommended closing the case due to critical gaps in the evidence. However, a court rejected the recommendation, and initiated proceedings against the Talwars. In 2013, the parents were convicted based on circumstantial evidence, and remain imprisoned, while their appeal is pending before a higher court.
The film starts off with an introduction of Joint Director Ashwin Kumar at the annual function of India's premier police investigating agency, the Central Department of Investigation (CDI). At the function (1 April 2008), his senior officers hand him over a double murder case. The film then goes into a flashback of events leading to the murders.
On the night of 15–16 March 2008, Shruti Tandon (Ayesha Parveen), a 14-year girl is found dead at her home in Sameer Vihar of Noida, by her parents Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) and Nutan (Konkona Sen Sharma). The local policemen, led by Inspector Dhaniram (Gajraj Rao) are incompetent, and do not know the basics of criminal investigation. Initially, they seek the missing servant Khempal. However, later, Khempal's decomposed body is found on the terrace of the building in which the Tandons live. The police question Khempal's close friend and Tandons' assistant Kanhaiya. Kanhaiya tells the police that Ramesh Tandon might have been involved in an extra-marital affair, and Khempal might have been involved in a relationship with Shruti. The police start suspecting the Tandons, and after sometime, declare the murders as a clear case of honour killing. On 25 March, the Noida police arrest Ramesh Tandon for the two murders. The police chief organizes a press conference in which he declares that Ramesh murdered Shruti and Khempal after finding them in a compromising position. This character assassination of Shruti leads to public outrage, and the case is handed over to the Central Department of Investigation (CDI), the country's elite investigating police agency.
The CDI team is led by Joint Director Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) and ACP Vedant (Soham Shah). Kumar holds contempt for the sloppy first responders who botched the initial crime-scene investigation. He believes the parents to be innocent, and methodically builds a case against the father's resentful assistant. His team uses narco tests, attempting to prove that the assistant and his two accomplices committed the murders. On 22 June 2008, he officially exonerates the parents, and Ramesh Tandon is released from the jail. The narrative also briefly discusses the dissolution of Kumar's marriage with Reema (Tabu).
Just as Ashwin Kumar is about to conclude his investigation, his senior officer retires and a new CDI chief takes over. ACP Vedant, in his greed to get a promotion, starts working against Kumar. This leads to an altercation between the two officers, resulting in Kumar's suspension. On 9 July 2008, CDI hands over the case to a new probe team led by Kumar's former boss Paul (Atul Kumar), who concludes that the parents committed the murders. In the final act, rival camps (of Kumar and Paul), with opposing hypotheses, make their cases before the CDI chief. On 20 February 2011, CDI files a closure report in Ghaziabad court, naming parents as the prime suspects, but states that the evidence is insufficient to initiate prosecution. On 15 March, the Tandons file a protest plea opposing CDI's report. On 25 March, the judge rejects the closure report and makes the parents an accused in the case. The trial begins on 8 June 2012, and the Tandons are convicted for the murders on 26 November 2013.Irrfan Khan as Ashwin Kumar, investigation officer of Central Department of Investigation (CDI); based on CBI investigator Arun Kumar, IPS
Konkona Sen Sharma as Nutan Tandon, Shruti's mother; based on Nupur Talwar
Neeraj Kabi as Shruti's father Ramesh Tandon; based on Rajesh Talwar
Sohum Shah as ACP Vedant Mishra, an assistant of Ashwin Kumar
Alisha Khan as Shruti Tandon; based on Aarushi Talwar
Gajraj Rao as Inspector Dhaniram
Atul Kumar as Paul, the investigator who replaces Ashwin Kumar; based on CBI officer AGL Kaul
Sumit Gulati as Kanhaiya, Tandons' assistant suspected of murder by Ashwin Kumar
Neyha Sharma cameo of a youngster giving media bite
Prakash Belawadi as Ramshankar Pillai, CDI Director and Ashwin Kumar's former boss
Shishir Sharma as JK Dixit, the new CDI chief, who succeeded Ramshankar Pillai after the latter's retirement from service
Tabu in a guest appearance as Reema Kumar, wife of Ashwin Kumar
Talvar depicts how office politics, professional rivalries and media coverage can influence the course of justice. It highlights the flaws in India's criminal justice system, and the prejudices and limitations of the people running it.
The film critiques the media for salacious reportage and for encouraging the public to judge the accused even before a court verdict is pronounced.
The film also explores the socio-economic divides in urban India: the affluent doctor-couple, the Uttar Pradesh policemen with their regressive mindsets and rough methods, and the migrants engaged in lowly jobs.
Aarushi's aunt Vandana Talwar, who launched a campaign to prove the parents' innocence, provided some material to the film's writer Vishal Bhardwaj. Bhardwaj is also said to have received first-hand accounts from Rajesh and Nupur Talwar.
Talvar premiered as Guilty at Toronto International Film Festival's Special Presentations on 14 September 2015.
Paid previews were organized a day before the film's public release on 2 October 2015. The film was released on 2 October 2015 with limited screens in India with screen count of just 625.
Joe Leydon of Variety called Vishal Bhardwaj's screenplay "solidly constructed", and praised the film's narrative flow as "satisfyingly brisk". Meghna Gulzar has stated that her script is completely objective and unbiased. However, Joe Leydon states it is obvious that the filmmakers' sympathies lie with the parents. J Hurtado of Twitch Film called the film a "remarkable achievement" that is in contrast with the mainstream Indian movies, praising the performances as "stellar".
Rajyasree Sen of Firstpost remarked that the film has a "gritty documentary feel" to it, and praised the filmmakers for their research. According to her, Ashwin Kumar is the best-etched character in the film. She criticized Tabu's cameo appearance as unnecessary. She also remarked that the film's Rashomon-esque storytelling is designed to show the parents in sympathetic light. According to her the version that shows the parents as the culprits indicates that it would ludicrous to doubt the parents—their actions seem "almost farcical and darkly comic". She also pointed out that the film doesn't mention how Nupur Talwar changed her testimony about where she had left Aarushi's room keys, which was one of the factors in the court verdict.
Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV rated the movie 3.5/5, calling it a "gripping, genre-defying and non-exploitative cinematic examination" of the murder case. He praised Bhardwaj for his "solid screenplay" and fine performances of the actors. Srijana Mitra Das of The Times of India rated the film 4.5/5, contrasting it with the typical song-and-dance movies of Bollywood. She praised Sreekar Prasad's editing and Bhardwarj's writing. Bollywood Hungama rated the movie 3.5/5, calling it engaging and edgy thriller. Sneha May Francis of Emirates 24/7 called Talvar "one of the most riveting movies of our times", praising Bharadwaj as a master storyteller and Irrfan Khan as a top-notch actor.
Shilpa Jamkhandikar of Reuters praised Irrfan Khan's acting and Vishal Bhardwaj's screenplay. She praised the film as well-constructed and gripping, but mentioned the filmmakers' obvious sympathy for the parents as the film's only shortcoming. According to her, the filmmakers have taken the parents' version at face value, while always questioning the other side. Nandini Ramnath of Scroll.in praised the actors' performances and stated that the film seemed like a "slickly produced, tightly written and beautifully performed true crime documentary". According to her, Vishal Bhardwaj seemed to have an "unshakeable belief " that the parents were innocent, and this bias ignores Ashwin Kumar's reliance on the discredited practice of narco-analysis; Kumar's manhandling of a police officer and witness is presented as honourable and necessary rather than questionable. She called the film a "legal petition disguised as a movie", stating that the film's sole purpose was to request the authorities to reconsider the Talwars' sentencing. Aseem Chhabra of rediff.com rated the movie 4/5, calling it a "very well made film" and a "remarkable ensemble piece of drama". According to him, Tabu's cameo appearance feels like a diversion, and makes the film a bit too long. Unlike many other reviewers, he stated that the filmmakers had not made any judgments about the case.
During paid previews before its prior release the film collected ₹0.50 crore (US$78,000). The film grossed ₹2.50 crore (US$390,000) nett on its opening day. The film collected ₹9.5 crore (US$1.5 million) nett in its first weekend. On its fourth day the film collected ₹1.65 crore (US$260,000) nett. On its fifth day the film collected ₹1.65 crore (US$260,000)nett. The film collected ₹15.50 crore (US$2.4 million) nett in its first week.
The film grossed ₹5.05 crore (US$790,000) in its second weekend to take its ten-day total to ₹22.55 crore (US$3.5 million). On its second Monday the film collected ₹1.10 crore (US$170,000) nett. The film collected ₹0.85 crore (US$130,000) nett on its second Tuesday.
After two weeks the film collection stand at ₹26 crore (US$4.1 million) nett.
The film grossed ₹2.25 crore (US$350,000) in its third weekend.
The film collected ₹29.33 crore (US$4.6 million) nett after three weeks.National Film Award
Best Adapted Screenplay - Vishal Bhardwaj
Best Audiography - Sanjay Kurian