Raat Akeli Hai Movie Review: Nawazuddin Siddiqui solves a mediocre mystery
The knives are out in Raat Akeli Hai, a Christiesque thriller that is less compelling than its main lead
The trailer for Netflix’s Raat Akeli Hai had seemed a bit of a gamble. For one, it put Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a police uniform, perhaps to offset his iconic gangster on the same platform. As it turns out, a sleuthing Nawazuddin is as exciting as a swaggering one. Here he plays Inspector Jatil Yadav, a comic-book creature who lives with his mom and sizes up suspects twice his height. The film is less convincing, with a skewed style-to-substance ratio. Still, a compelling central performance and some striking visual flourishes keep you hooked.
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Shweta Tripathi
Director: Honey Trehan
Streaming on: Netflix
The patriarch of an influential family is murdered. The perpetrator, it is strongly suggested, is a loved one. Suspicion falls on Radha (Radhika Apte), the patriarch’s mistress-turned-second wife. Jatil sounds her out but is distrustful of the other members. He corners Vikram (Nishant Dahiya), the victim’s nephew who was leading a secret affair with Radha. The knives come out pretty fast — debutant director Honey Trehan parading a cast of cousins, housemaids, and scheming politicians. There’s an effort to Indianise the proceedings — Jatil, when calling for a forensic kit, is told they’re yet to learn its use — but overall the mood remains heavily Christiesque.
By all means a combustible screen pair, the push-and-pull between Nawazuddin and Radhika gets stale. When Jatil is introduced as overly dismissive of women, you know it’s a setup for conflicts to come. Later on, he lets slip some information that puts another female character in jeopardy. He doesn’t pause for remorse, though, driven by the same savior complex he holds for Radha. Screenwriter Smita Singh has chops to spare, but does not invest in sharp characterisations — the essence of a good whodunit.
Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar goes to town on blackened highways and streets. There’s a sudden gunfight that’s expertly designed and shot. The house itself — with its turquoise walls, antique cabinets and secret stairways — is a thing of mystery, elevated by the trumpet solo in the score. By contrast, the plot of familial subterfuge and palace intrigue wears thin. There are more than a few red herrings, none too deceitful or sufficiently justified. Disappointing, too, is the reliance on flashbacks and exposition to wrap things up, instead of the kick-in-the-gut finale one would expect.
Nawazuddin, visibly perked up at playing a sleuth, is a delight to watch. He chomps on the word ‘jaanch’ (inspection), sporting a tan leather jacket and shades (Ila Arun, playing Jatil’s mother, calls him ‘Ajay Devgn’). Radhika gets buried in a blanket of intrigue, while the terrain is truly owned by Aditya Srivastava, ruminating under the 90s moniker Munna Raja. The film could have gained from a shift in perspective, giving us tiny bits of information from its host of characters. Instead, it leans completely on Jatil, whose scrambled view of the mystery begins to mimic ours.
Late into Raat Akeli Hai, a character is reading the newspaper. She announces a headline, while Jatil reminds her to ‘read the whole thing.’ It’s sensible advice from a detective who believes in getting the whole story. For all the toil of long-form — in journalism as much as police work — there’s victory to be had.