In his directorial debut, the well-known Bollywood casting director, Honey Trehan, is not content making a classic Agatha Christie-like mystery meeting Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett detective tale. And he doesn’t narrate it in the old-fashioned style either. Yes, there is the familiar template—a stately but crumbling mansion, a wedding celebration, an extended dysfunctional family, a dead body or two, a cop/detective, an endless list of suspects, some definitive clues, many a red herring and dark secrets from the past whose shadows loom large on the present. But the Abhishek Chaubey school of filmmaking that Raat Akeli Hai appears to belong to, lends it a cultural and contextual rootedness and takes it beyond the thrill of a typical whodunit, whydunit, howdunit.
The horny patriarch of the family, politician Raghubeer Singh (Khalid Tyagii) is murdered on the very night of his wedding to his mistress Radha (Radhika Apte) a woman less than half his age. An idiosyncratic Inspector Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) arrives at the scene of crime and has a ready set of suspects to kick off his investigation with. Each person appears to have some secrets and lies hidden away, there are webs of betrayals and deceptions, jealousies and resentment and perfect motives to bump off the old man beyond just the lure of lucre, property and inheritance. But the finger keeps pointing back at the new bride with whom even the cop seems to have a connect.
The rootedness of the story comes from its sense of place, the characters that inhabit that space, their motivations and the language they talk in. You can’t miss the UP-MP flavour in the Hindi words and phrases populating the dialogue (dabaa rang for being dark, for instance) while the film itself traverses across the two states, coasting along the road from Kanpur to Gwalior. The Chambal state of mind seeps into Raat Akeli Hai straight from Sonchiriya as do the themes of toxic masculinity and exploitative patriarchy with electoral politics and caste and class dynamics playing on, in the background. There is no option left here for women but to be baaghi (rebels) and there is little that separates revenge from justice. The twists and turns might feel mild, the buildup to the revelation flounders at times even as the climax turns out more horrifying and brutal than surprising or edge of the seat.
His casting expertise helps Trehan pick up an ensemble that coasts along smoothly, with actors in fine form to fit their respective characters especially Tigmanshu Dhulia who owns the small but impactful role of SSP Shukla. He plays it with a delicious sense of ease. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is as effective in his sullenness and temperamental ways, most so in taking out his frustration on a plate of chowmein.
As the mind deals with larger, more complicated issues, the simplistic fun of joining the dots and the bare-faced pleasure of solving a mystery along with the detective does become secondary here and the film does lapse into the tedious at times. The “love story in time of a murder” adds a needlessly cheesy, flat layer that detracts than add to the proceedings. This, when the moral ambiguity of the femme fatale and the troubled heart of the detective could have made for some enigmatic moments on screen. Instead it’s his blow hot blow cold relationship with the mother (Ila Arun doing an ace turn) that’s a joy to behold. The gender reversal in the matchmaking game and the obsession with fairness, portrayed at the very start of the film, is as much a hearty chuckle, a biting satire as it is a definitive statement. The little touches and detailing that stay on in the mind.
The Raat Akeli Hai review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site