Synopsis – A dark comedy anthology, which was supposed to be center on unavoidable jeopardize of life and has four different stories set in a quintessential Indian metro.
My Take – With films like Murder, Gangster, Life in a… Metro, Barfi!, and Jagga Jasoos behind him, I think it is suffice to say as a filmmaker Anurag Basu has well proven his mettle. Known for experimenting with genres, here, writer-director-choreographer Basu, for his first Netflix original, ventures into black comedy territory by using the popular board game of Ludo as a framing device for his latest feature, to facilitate the crossing of his characters with each other just like tokens, sometimes even cutting each other, all with the single aim of reaching the main house and winning the color-coded saga of crime and consequence.
Though, we have seen him present a film encompassing several stories back in 2007’s Life in a Metro, but this one takes it a notch higher. Supported by an ensemble cast, the 149-minute crazy-quilt film tangles four separate story-lines and a couple dozen different visual styles, and widely succeeds in managing to keep the viewers glued to the screen with intrigue.
Sure, the film is not perfect, as it is overlong and uneven at times, but in its own way and in its own style it offers unrelenting entertainment. Mainly as it is well held together by its excellent editing and deft direction that introduces connections where none were evident, reveal already existing links in small increments at unexpected moments and occasionally opt for randomness just for laughs. It’s an ambitious effort bearing much rewards for viewers, assuming you can keep up.
Examined through questions of virtue and vice, sin and goodness, heaven and hell, fate and punishment through intersecting lives, the story follows four different story-lines, with Rahul Satyendra Tripathi aka Sattu Bhaiyya (Pankaj Tripathi), a gangster who is simply unwilling to quit, at the helm of it all. On the first side of the story is Akash Chauhan (Aditya Roy Kapur), a voice-over artiste and ventriloquist-comedian who is still in love with his ex, Shruti Choksi (Sanya Malhotra), who despite reciprocating his feelings is determined to marry only a rich man. And as faith would have it, on the eve of her marriage, an illicit video featuring them having sex finds begins to go viral, forcing the two to join forces to find the source.
The second story sees Pinky (Fatima Sana Shaikh), a married women who turns to her former lover, Alok Kumar Gupta aka Aalu (Rajkummar Rao), to help get her cheating husband out of jail. The third story sees Sheeja Thomas (Pearle Maaney), an ambitious nurse newly arrived in north India from Kerala, joining hands with Rahul Awasthi (Rohit Suresh Saraf), a homeless salesperson to go on the run with Sattu’s bags full of money while his goons chase them.
The final story sees Batukeshwar Tiwari aka Bittu Bhaiyya (Abhishek Bachchan), a former member of Sattu’s gang, who returns after a six year imprisonment to see that his wife, Asha (Asha Negi) and his child, have moved on with another man. However, during his mourning he strikes up a friendship with Mini (Inayat Verma), a six year old who has self-kidnapped herself to get her parent’s attention. Everyone’s lives converge at different intervals, bringing them all together at the end.
The film has all the strengths of director Anurag Basu’s previous films – memorable characters, strong isolated scenes, slick production values, and a delightful soundtrack by Pritam. The film may appear frothy, but beneath the bubbles manages to make a point about materialism, true love, parochialism and a news media perched on the lap of the establishment.
The narrative structure that film follows is tangled and it is meant to be like that. There are bizarrely-connected sequences and absurd action which makes this film a surreal experience altogether. Scenes like a crane in a hospital picking up a bed, taking a hotel’s cupboard when the safe can’t be broken, amalgamating the idea of cows and voters, and various other sequences add to the quality!
Basu’s screenplay includes ruminations on “sin and virtue”, the importance of second and third chances, and the irrational nature of life itself. Top-angle shots emphasize the feeling that we are watching a board game in progress. Despite the throng of characters in the narrative, many of them played by significant stars, no one is lost in the madding crowd. Each sub-plot gets its due, and while individual players in the story may face confusion over the randomness of events, the editing is neatly handled by Ajay Sharma to ensure that the viewer does not.
Sure, not every point is taken to a logical conclusion, but as the narrator reminds us, there are no easy answers to life’s most complex questions. Though terrible things happen to many people here, while others do terrible things, director Basu ably ensures that the overall tone remains feather light despite interludes of violence, heartache and pathos, and never heads towards embracing slapstick humor. Color is also used extensively and well, one of a few stylistic quirks that help to set the film apart.
Yes, the runtime will be an issue for some, as will the variations in mood and style, though that’s a given for most anthology stories. Nevertheless, there’s a helping of style and imagination to the film that helps to keep the whole thing creatively cohesive even when narrative wise it seems anything but. For all its formal trappings, it feels more in-sync than a lot of other more ostensibly linear films that have released recently. There’s a lot to like and surprisingly little to quibble about, although there’s enough individuality in the craftsmanship that it might prove divisive. But the themes are universal enough for the global audience Netflix provides.
The ensemble cast plays a major factor in making the film is enjoyable. Abhishek Bachchan is likeable and shares a pleasant, warm equation with the lovable child actor Inayat Verma who puts up a superb act. Rajkummar Rao is absolutely impeccable. He dances, he sings, he fights, he cries but above all, he loves! He is there and you will notice him unforgettably. The dependable Pankaj Tripathi ensures that the monstrous Sattu is a twinkly-eyed and his bond with the strong and assertive Shalini Vatsa makes for a perfect pair and we’d like to see a spin-off of their characters. Or even a film featuring them as partners.
Aditya Roy Kapur to deliver one of the film’s biggest surprises. Stripped of his usual mannerisms and correctly cast as the gentle and cool man Shruti should be marrying, Roy Kapur delivers the goods. Former Dangal girls Sanya Malhotra and Fatima Sana Shaikh are excellent in their respective roles. Pearle Maaney, the Mollywood actor making her Bollywood debut here, along with Rohit Saraf prove to be the breath of fresh air in the film, despite starring alongside an already experienced cast. On the whole, ‘Ludo’ is an intriguing, darkly comic crime anthology that deserves attention for being a wholesome entertainer with a praiseworthy cast.
Directed – Anurag Basu
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 149 minutes