Synopsis – The film follows a small town cop who is summoned to investigate the death of a politician which gets complicated by the victim’s secretive family and his own conflicted heart.
My Take – Though I have managed to devour filmmaker Rian Johnson‘s excellent Knives Out multiple times since it released last year, as a dedicated fan of Hindi cinema, I always found myself coming back to the thought about how despite possessing abundant writing and directing talent in such a vast and constantly changing industry, we have only a handful of such thrillers to speak of? Especially considering how films like Gumnaam (1965), Gupt: The Hidden Truth (1997), Talvar (2015) and Drishyam (2015) turned out be both critical and commercial successes upon release.
All we need is a stellar cast (not necessarily A-listers), a definitive murder-mystery, a stout technical team, and of course a twist no one should see coming.
Thankfully, my prayers seem to be answered in the form of this latest COVID-19 theatrical cancellation casualty which found new home at Netflix, released on July 31st and managed to leave my wholly satisfied.
Helmed by Honey Trehan, a renowned casting and assistant director known for like Omkara, Udta Punjab and Raees among many others, who here marks his smashing directorial debut by embedding a deft murder mystery into a familiar yet complex family drama, which is not only evenly paced but also gets juicier with each new piece of the puzzle. Though the film is about 149 minutes long, director Trehan and Sacred Games co-writer Smita Singh, give us many astonishing and thrilling moments as we continue to be drawn into the maze of hidden secrets and rotten past.
Sure, it does take help of certain set of cinematic troupes but the layered writing and directing keeps you completely engrossed and constantly guessing who the murderer is. If you are a fan of the genre and looking for something on the noir front, this one should definitely be in your watch-list.
Set in Kanpur, the story follows Inspector Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a formidable police officer, who is called in to investigate the murder of Raghubeer Singh (Khalid Tyabji), a powerful and politically connected middle aged business man, who is found shot in his bed on the night of his second wedding to Radha (Radhika Apte), his young mistress. And since the murder took place in his own house, every member of the family, ranging from his own sister Pramila (Padmavati Rao), his pregnant daughter Karuna (Shweta Tripathi), his nephew Vikram (Nishant Dahiya), his niece Vasudha (Shalini Raghuvanshi), and their domestic help Chunni (Riya Shukla) are now suspects.
While almost everyone wants Yadav to believe that Radha is the killer, he is convinced that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Especially when motives and hidden truths slowly begin to unveil themselves, everyone including Yadav’s in-charge SSP Lalji Shukla (Tigmanshu Dhulia) and politician Munna Raja (Aditya Shrivastava), seemed to have had a motive to kill Raghubeer Singh.
What follows is a wild goose chase that explores the shady dealings between the police-politicians nexus and a rich, reputable family fighting for relevance in their small community. As the secrets start tumbling out, the story gets darker, making you question who you really side with, and whose motivations you believe. Half-way through the film, viewers might feel the culprit has been caught but soon you get to realize the story is far from over and there is more to this than meets the eye.
Further investigation links the twin murders which occur right at the start of the film with Raghubeer’s death and skeletons come tumbling out of the closet. The film is an unpredictable series of event and the murder mystery makes us curious about who did it rather than why and how. With more layers, comes more mess and so in the first hour, the film is filled with twists and turns which makes you doubt each and every one at some point or the other.
The film walks with its own pace to untangle the mess, after a time you think you have tied all the strings but it invests you in exploring so many different layers in the second half, that you realize finding the perpetrator isn’t the only thing that needs to be figured out here. Here, director Trehan and writer Smita Singh deserve credit for doing great job with the story and for keeping the thrill alive till the end.
Spinning the idea of victim and perpetrator on its head, this is a story that doesn’t preach. While it has a layer of commentary on deep-rooted patriarchy, sexual abuse, and misogyny, it does not overpower the plot. And when the mystery unfolds, it doesn’t leave you shocked as the entire story-line had prepared you for this end.
Though the film gets dark in parts, quite literally, it also contains lighter moments, like Yadav’s mother’s quest for the perfect bride for her son, who is quite dark skinned, hence not seen as prospective groom. Here, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nawazuddin Siddiqui‘s camaraderie brings some comic relief in an otherwise thematically-intense narrative.
On the flip side, as the film takes its own time to reach its explosive climax, the lengthy run time and the slow-paced narrative may end up feeling heavy for anyone looking for a commercial potboiler. Personally my only fault with the film was the addition of the romantic aspect, which felt unnecessary and seemed to be hinged from another script with a similar setting.
Performance wise, without a doubt this is a Nawazuddin Siddiqui show! With the meatiest part in a film, his Jatil Yadav is easily just another feather in Siddiqui‘s ever growing list of memorable characters. Radhika Apte too is flawless as a feisty yet vulnerable woman with an intriguing backstory. While Shweta Tripathi and Shivani Raghuvanshi stand strong in their respective roles.
In other roles, Shree Dhar Dubey, Ila Arun, Aditya Srivastava, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Padmavati Rao, Nishant Dahiya, Swanand Kirkire and Ria Shukla lend a strong support to the film. On the whole, ‘Raat Akeli Hai’ is a meticulously crafted whodunit that makes for a thrilling ride.
Directed – Honey Trehan
Rated – R
Run Time – 149 minutes