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Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a still from 'Raat Akeli Hai'
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Khalid Tyabji, Aditya Srivastava, Ila Arun, Shweta Tripathi, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Nishant Dahiya, Swanand
Director: Honey Trehan
Raat Akeli Hai - a Netflix release is a respite amongst the movies that are getting dropped on OTT platform. Though it’s dark and disturbing but it’s a lesson in several modular arts of movie making. It takes things by scruff of the neck and jolts them. However, the end is a bit hurried and tepid in ‘relative’ sense. The work is akin to an alchemy of Vishal Bhardwaj’s bold unapologetic tragic universe meeting Shridhar Raghvan’s intriguing world of edgy suspense.
A debutant director (Honey Trehan - casting his net wide and far) at the helm with a stellar cast - the concoction he conjures up is heady and he is able to keep you in high spirits not only till it lasts but it has its own after taste for those who can savor. A ‘whodunit’ with a twist and turn like a slippery slalom, it begins with two brutal highway homicides - as it turns out the last ride for the car travelers before the tannery travel.
Cut to - five years later is another part of the same dark world but this night time is with bright wedding lights and shine. That’s what you get to see externally but next few scenes are about to introduce us to the malicious murky world within. It’s a mansion with oddball occupants and there are a host of them, each with a weirder story than the other.
Here the celebration is for the wedding of the much married man-of-the-house Raghuveer Singh (Khalid Tyabji). The old lecherous patriarch is getting hitched to his young caretaker and as we know overtime only the grand old man is happy with the arrangements. At around midnight when revelry is at its ebb he is found murdered with a shot through his chest and a battered face incessantly oozing life-fluid.
Enter our protagonist who is a policeman assigned to this case. Inspector Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is typical browbeaten cop who neither shoots from hips and nor from lips. He goes about his job in a no-nonsense and almost unassuming manner. He visits the mansion and is minding his own business but is not allowed to. He is confronted with the devious and deviant inhabitants of the house.
The mansion is replete with host of relative - blood ones and bloody ones. Almost no one is mourning the departed soul but everyone is trying to kick out the bride-turned-widow. There are sons Nitesh Kumar as Karan and Gyanendra Tripathi as Ravi Sisodia, daughter-in-law (Shweta Tripathi as Karuna Singh), brother-in-law (Swanand Kirkire as Ramesh Chauhan) along with an extended family (Padmavati Rao as Pramila Singh, Nishant Dahiya as Vikram Singh and Shivani Raghuvanshi as Vasudha Singh) with few more in fray along with a hapless maid - Riya Shukla as Chunni).
Each one with their intent and acts inadvertently hell bent on proving that they are bigger suspect than the others. Jatil Yadav goes simplistic and announces his intention of getting to the bottom of truth even if he has to dig dangerously deep. He gets headlong into it - initially with a sense of duty and then as he gets more entrenched and invested in the murky affairs of the mansion, he gradually gets swayed and driven more by his conflicted heart than his confounded mind. And he has a conscious-keeper as a partner Narendra Singh aka Nandu (Shreedhar Dubey), who helps him to rise above when he is all but drowning in his own deeds.
Inspector Jatil Yadav interrogates one and all. In this process of unearthing the murderer in the mystery, he unravels few more intertwined threads, which leads him to the door steps of a local MLA Munna Raja (Aditya Shrivastava). One thing leads to another and he is able to hammer few more nails in the coffin but not without facing the crooked long arm of the law (lessness) through his superior SSP Lalji Shukla (Tigmanshu Dhulia). The path to the real culprits is laden with hefty henchman, gangster goons, reckless relatives, crooked cops and pugnacious politicians. It is a cesspool out there and the wriggle is wrought with threats not only to his job but it reaches on to his very earthly existence.
The murder mystery shares its DNA with ‘Knives Out’ (an Oscar entry) although it is very difficult to draw parallels but somewhere down the line the subtle influences cannot be missed. Nonetheless, the movie stands on its own and straddles very tall not only in terms of treatment but its tone and texture too screams that it is going to go down as a milestone in Indian Cinema.
Raat Akeli Hain signifies ‘stars’ but here the characters are ensemble of ‘high grade actors,’ who not only perform at their peak but are right on the money with their subtlety and body language. A special mention must be made of Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Jatil (actually Jatin but for a typo in birth certificate) - he is the one who usually plays gangster roles swims the opposite tides with so much conviction and ease that he erases his gangster image from your psyche in the very first scene itself.
Others are on the ball and play it to perfection. The lens work by Pankaj Kumar is a lesson in cinematography with every palette blending seamlessly with mood of the scene and the unfolding narrative. The screenplay by Smita Singh and editing by A Sreekar Prasad keeps the movie steadfast on-track and never allow the viewer’s interest to sag, barring the closure.
Raat Akeli Hai is a genre of its own and Raat here refers to the darkness around and within everyone. It’s more figurative than literal and the caper conveys it with a punch in the gut along with a scalpel through the skin.
Stars: 4 on 5 (An extra half-star for the talented director of this maiden venture for tone, texture and treatment).