Raat Akeli Hai
Director: Honey Trehan
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Tigmanshu Dhulia
The names of the protagonists, particularly in Hindi films, tend to define their personalities. In Honey Trehan’s Raat Akeli Hai, which marks his directorial debut, when we first meet Nawazuddin Siddiqui and come to know his name is Inspector Jatil Yadav, everything about his moniker tends to defy it. Jatil in English translates into something complex, but his demeanour appears to be rather comical.
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In a long stretch that continues for over two scenes, we see his conversations with his mother (Ila Arun) about his marriage and supposed suitor. It’s only after a murder inside a sprawling mansion that the film actually begins to get like Siddiqui’s name, and just like all the mysteries, everyone’s a suspect and hiding a secret. What is actually justified is the title of the thriller. Almost every event unfolds on a night, a murder, a marriage, or an escape.
The film is produced by Abhishek Chaubey and is directed by a man who has assisted Vishal Bhardwaj for long. When such minds and makers collaborate to make a film, one expects both amusement and atmospherics. Both Chaubey and Bhardwaj, with films like Udta Punjab, Sonchiriya, Kaminey, and Omkara, understand the world of noir and how to create palpable tension-filled with characters driven by both charisma and complexities. For others, who expect Abbas-Mustan style of storytelling, Raat Akeli Hai nearly ticks the box, except there’s no Johnny Lever to add humour.
The humour in this whodunnit is actually added by the sharp lines and the way Trehan treats the relationship between a mother and her son. Arun and Siddiqui, who were recently seen in Ghoomketu, expand their crackling chemistry in their second collaboration of the year. A scene plays out where he’s applying fairness cream on his face and Arun’s voice in the background says something about Ajay Devgn and how his son looks exactly like him when he wears goggles.
Trehan walks on a tightrope here, adding comical touches to the narrative and also establishing a sense of irony about how fairness has absolutely nothing to do with one’s being and is an unhealthy and unethical obsession solely resting in the mindset of the people. Siddiqui has played a cop before in Raees, but in that film, he knew who he had to nab, the drama was about a cat-and-mouse game and one-upmanship, both in terms of conversations and cerebrality.
Here, he’s intrigued and interested to know who could be the one behind the crime. Raat Akeli Hai is not very different from the other murder mysteries that we have seen, heard, or read. It follows the very same template we have been fed with earlier. A crime happens, a cop appears, the suspects begin to pile up, there are backstories to connect the dots, some unexpected twists and turns, and the big reveal.
Raat Akeli Hai is intentionally slow in its pace, Trehan wants his viewers to get absorbed in its atmospheric world, he also takes out time to reflect the plight of the bandits of Chambal, what Chaubey did in his ferocious Sonchiriya. The characters intentionally behave as if they could be behind the remorseless act. Radhika Apte plays Radha, the woman who’s about to get married to the man who has been murdered.
When she first meets Yadav, there’s a close up of both the actors and the scene plays out in slow motion. Yadav has a smile on his face and he thinks she’s coming to give him a hug, but something else happens that leaves him perplexed. There are hardly any actors who can pull off deadpan humour with as much finesse as Siddiqui. And there are not too many actors that can hide demonic intentions with as much precision as Apte. They both run riot on the screen and explode with their performances.
But beyond its mystery, Raat Akeli Hai could be a metaphor to describe the loneliness of its fictional characters. It could be a portrait of the existence of darkness in the human heart, and how, after a point, life becomes nothing but about loneliness.