Riveting. Gripping. Rustically local in flavour. These are a few words that come to mind when one thinks of Raat Akeli Hai. Leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of crime dramas, this whoddunit follows the classical ‘one murder many suspects’ approach. Although, comparing it stylistically to Rashomon would be simply wrong, as we clearly witness the investigator’s bias towards his love interest from the very beginning.
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Very few opening scenes have had an impact on me like the one in this film did. It opens with two gruesome murders, quite unabashedly. The director submits entirely to the needs of the story, without compromising on the possibilities of disturbing the viewer out of the experience. And while it disturbs, it also grips in equal measure, owning up to that in all its glory.
The ensemble cast delivers eloquently, and every character comes to occupy an important entry point into the dark vicissitudes of the case at large. With Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhita Apte leading the film as brilliantly as they do, this Honey Trehan directorial also features Tigmanshu Dhulia in a pivotal role, almost creating the semblance of an offbeat crossover between Sacred Games and Gangs of Wasseypur.
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That aside, the film intermingles important themes such as those of patriarchy and child abuse into its fold. It goes on to represent with detailed intimacy, the varied affects of the same on the human psyche. It is by showing the other side of criminality that it finds its winning points. Blurring the lines between the criminal and the victim figure, the film chooses to focus not on the objective nature of the crime, but on the many subjectivities surrounding it.
Holding each of the stakeholders responsible and investigating with heroic honesty, the Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Jatil, is lovable almost instantly; we witness his bittersweet relationship with his mother right from the start. While he calls for her when there’s no water in the bathroom, ironically, right after bravely spending time on a case that might cost him his job, we see the multiple possibilities inherent in his character. It is not the usual good-cop unidimensional work-life relationship that we see here; our good cop falls in love with women who are considered unlovable by society and unabashedly shouts ‘mummay’ when he needs his mother.
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The intricacies of his character are weaved together with precision, as it treads the tightrope of vulnerability and professional responsibility alike. In his stubbornness and strength, his perusal of the case is what drives the entire film for us. He occupies the center of the frame for almost the entirety of the film. Besides being just a crime drama, it is also a comment on the systematic oppression of women, showing the why behind an act, instead of just focussing on the dramatic element inherent in the act of murder.
Amid the twists and turns of the film’s plot, the fault lines of the many mechanisms of oppression functioning under the surface come to the fore, which is what make this film what it is.
Apte, who shoulders the feminisms of the film with grace, plays her role with a revelatory quality. The sheer unpredictability of her character is a thorough driving force of the film, as it incites the viewer’s interest into the narrative. Somewhere between the lines of believability and distrust lie the many characters of the film, who make it easy and simultaneously difficult to reach a conclusion to the case. Notwithstanding the fact that several gruesome murders happen along the way for the mystery to be solved, Jatil (which means complex) engages with the complexities of the case with utmost dedication and persistence. Unfazed by the corrupt administrations and the political nexus’ effort to stop him, he continues the investigation even if it is at the cost of his life.
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The crew of the film includes the likes of cinematographer Pankaj Kumar (who worked on films like Tumbbad and Talvar) alongwith script-writer Smita Singh of Sacred Games fame. The screenplay was developed under the guidance of Anjum Rajabali during the years 2012-13 at the FTII, which happens to be Smita’s alma matter. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that debutant director Honey Trehan had the best team involved in the project, including members of the supporting cast such as Shweta Tripathi, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Aditya Srivastava, Nishant Dahiya and others.
Despite being an intense murder mystery, the film is not without emotionality. It concludes on a sentimental note. While it may not work for some, for me it served as a cherry on the top. The makers ensure the film is not just reduced to a chase story full of blood and gore; they embed it with humanity. This, coupled with the taut storytelling worked greatly for me, accentuating the overall viewing experience.
All in all, the film calls for serious viewing as it is sure to rattle your brain cells and its messaging over patriarchy is sure to grab eyeballs, given how well it is done.
Where to Watch: Netflix
By Sanghmitra Jethwani
Director: Honey Trehan
Writer: Smita Singh
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Shweta Tripathi, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Aditya Srivastava
Producer: Abhishek Chaubey, Ronnie Screwvala
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