Andhadhun : Movie Review
3 stars out of 5 (Good)
Director : Sriram Raghavan
Hindi (English subtitles available) , 2018
N.B : This review is dedicated to my best friend Chinmay Kini who alerted me to this movie.
What you desire from a thriller often boils down, thrills aside, to what one wants from cinema itself. Some thrillers knife in and ease out the human element so beautifully that at the end of it all the thrills don't matter so much, one is left wondering at something else. In others though the intrigue and churn roils so cleanly that it is the mechanism of the genre that endures. What happens when the thrills peter out and the personal drama wears thin ? This unfortunate anemia snags the latter stages of top director Sriram Raghavan's "Andhadhun" and prevents its forever undulating promise from blooming outright to join the fine ranks of his 'Ek Hasina Thi', 'Johnny Gaddar' and 'Badlapur'. Doing the math, one figures Raghavan bangs out a mean one every 4.6 years. I might be able to help him next time.
That shouldn't detract from the heartening phenomenon of the love from the Indian audience and critics coming the way of this fearless film-maker. In two weeks , the film has grossed Rs.41 crore and counting, and I have rarely seen this many four and five stars showered by a cross-section of Indian film reviewers.
"Andhadhun" tells the story of Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana) - a young pianist who fakes blindness so that people are extra nice to him. Initial frames set purportedly in Pune rush fairly pell mell with awful tunes of the songs that he plays to please his dancing club audience (everybody fakes a musical ear). The tale kicks up brilliantly when he walks into a crime scene. The perpetrators spare him as they presume he cannot see anything, while Akash's eyes hide their expressions behind his black glasses. Hilarity and alarm concoct a intensely delicious mix as he stumbles back more than once into the continuing thread of crime-'n'-culprits. He'd have been bumped off at any moment but people just aren't sure he has seen anything incriminating.
This is the movie's shtick and it is an admittedly wicked one to generate frisson-'n'-laughs. The film's best moments are pumped out of this crafty situation, and the script to its credit ramps up the grins with extra touches of cleverness. But once the story moves past this shtick, it struggles to think up the same palpitating level of creativity. It turns out to be the proverbial case of too many cooks not actually spoiling but rather diluting the broth and then forgetting the initial spices. The movie has not less than five script-writers , the director included. Contrast that to Raghavan's previous triumphs - "Ek Hasina Thi" the first half of which launched off the single platform of Sidney Shedon's genius ('Windmills of Gods'), the smashing "Johnny Gaddar" being penned mostly by Raghavan himself, and Massimo Carlotto's unforgiving 'L'oscura immensità della morte' beng chanelled into the stark magnificence of 'Badlapur'.
At the end , I did not feel much for the central character despite all his horrifying travails. I checked with my co-spectator - the answer was the same. The movie keeps throwing up surprises but there is not one sequence post interval that rises to the extraordinary. Akash keeps flapping and swiming against the tide and I watched him dispassionately in his assignment as a benign hero riding his rocky luck. A crooked surgeon occupies a good part of the second half. While I am not looking to redeem him as a matter of principle (the world has its share of wicked medicos and this is being written at a time when the real world is in uproar over a Saudi forensic doctor being a sickening part of a dismemberment team in Turkey) his character remains a mostly drab two-dimensional one. Turns out he isn't all bad, but even from the point of pure story-telling there is no complexity in his character and nothing to differentiate his antics from the smattering of screwy surgeons glimpsed elsewhere.
Tabu sizzles as the dark dame of this twisty yarn. Two decades have done nothing to limit her aura and she is ravishing here - countless other women can be too but Tabu backs that up with acting chops that would smoulderingly behove a femme fatale. Distinguished cinematography and music were never the top priorities for Sriram Raghavan and the mediocre attention to them shows up here too but interestingly for his followers, so do his directorial signatures. Grinning doffs of hat to Hindi yesteryear thrillers sneak into the proceedings, and he re-recruits his favoured roster of actors from his previous films - Ashwini Kalsekar, Zakir Hussain and blink-and-you-miss-them-but-still-recurring ones like Gopal K Singh.
The finale does a very neat job of pulling wool over the audience's eyes. There's a fantastical and rather ridiculous turn of events but did it happen or did it actually not ? It is a very good trick, but at that point I was not caring much. We did talk a lot about it afterwards. We also talked about how the movie is genuinely daring in never revealing what actually happened at the start, and about how tolerant Indian mainstream audiences can sometimes become. But as I said, I'm not really doing cartwheels now.
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