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Raat Akeli Hai review: A classic whodunit mystery

Raat Akeli Hai’s plot centers around the murder of a large family’s patriarc

Source: SIFY

By: Shrikanth Venkatesh

Critic's Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday 27 August 2020

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Movie Title

Raat Akeli Hai review: A classic whodunit mystery

Director

Honey Trehan

Star Cast

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte

When Raat Akeli Hai (The Night is Lonely) dropped on Netflix, social media was flooded with posts comparing it with the Oscar nominated blockbuster Knives Out. I was intrigued by this, but was also pragmatic. As I made progress with this film though, like the moon in the night sky, the similarities started waning, but didn’t completely go away.

The comparisons are not unjustified. Like in Knives Out, Raat Akeli Hai’s plot also centers around the murder of a large family’s patriarch. The character in question here is Raghuveer Singh, who has been murdered on the night of his second wedding.

This is not the first tragedy to have befallen this family. Five years back (the film opens with these scenes), Raghuveer’s first wife had been brutally murdered by a hitman on a highway. To investigate these seemingly connected events, in steps Inspector Jatil Patil (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).

Raat Akeli Hai runs for a good 150 minutes. This is more than Knives Out and other films that generally grapple with this genre. But this is also where we begin to understand and appreciate the narrative approach taken here.

While Knives Out cast Daniel Craig in the role of the larger than life detective Benoit Blanc, the protagonist played by Nawaz here couldn’t be more different. In one scene, we see his mother remark cheekily that he looks like Ajay Devgn, when he dons his uniform and wears his sunglasses! But the key decision that the makers have made here, is how an Ajay Devgn was not cast for this role and instead, a method actor like Nawaz was chosen.

The director Honey Trehan, who is also a seasoned casting director himself, has taken pains to ensure the spirit of realism in Smita Singh’s script is depicted with authenticity on screen. Jatil is no Sherlock, or for that matter Benoit Blanc. He might not possess a genius streak, or be a charisma stealer. But he grafts, and he is intelligent. He knows the system, how to play it and where not to give in.

We see Jatil grappling at every step. Everyone in Raghuveer’s extended family is a suspect, none more than his bride to be Radha (Radhika Apte with a star turn), and all of them are hostile. In fact as viewers, we struggle at times to register the sprawling family tree in our heads. The elaborate ‘interrogation’ scenes written into Knives Out to help with this are largely underplayed here and instead, we find subtle name-play employed to help create familiarity around the characters. For example, Karan and Karuna are one set of siblings and Vasudha and Vikram, their cousins, are another.

Apart from Raghuveer’s family, Jatil also has his ‘work’ family to contend with. He finds his only major lead, an old FIR on Mrs Raghuveer’s killing unattended and botched up. His superior officer is shady, and a corrupt local MLA’s growing influence on the case is unsettling.

True to its vision, the film broods and mulls over each of these angles without compromise. And to the credit of the writer and the director, none of it comes across as disengaging or disproportionately stretched. In fact, at times, the writing almost has a transcendental, lived-in feel to it. What with the frequent appearance of trains and all, the recital here almost reminds you of some Hirokazu Koreeda films, like Still Walking.

Upon its final reveal, the plot does come across as convoluted, but in a very good way. You will have a basic grasp of the plot once you finish the film, but the true reward is when you start thinking back and re-running the scenes in your head.

The attention to detail is mind-boggling. Don’t beat yourself up if you think you missed that ‘little thing’ there and this ‘little thing’ here. This is one of those rare films that takes great care to answer all the ‘why’s, and not just all the ‘how’s, and it demands close attention. In fact, a second-time watch of this film is not unwarranted at all.

Ultimately, I found Raat Akeli Hai to be a sumptuous watch. As mentioned before, don’t expect Benoit Blanc style genius revelations and deductions here, but go along with Jatil in his raw and punishing investigative journey. It’s a slow burn, but the patience is rewarding. The word ‘night’ isn’t complete without dotting the i and crossing the t, and this film’s meticulousness embodies this sentiment perfectly.

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