By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "Andhadhun"; Director: Sriram Raghavan; Cast: Tabu, Ayushmann Khurrana, Radhika Apte, Zakhir Hussain, Ashwini Kalsekar, Manav Vij, Chaya Kadam, Anil Dhawan, Gopal K. Singh; Rating: ****
Take a deep breath. Now, brace yourself for an experience that simultaneously defies and defines all the rules of the suspense genre.
The last time director Sriram Raghavan took us on a similarly clenched suspenseful roller-coaster ride in "Ek Haseena Thi", the moral compass was far less askew. Here in "Andhadhun", every character barring Radhika Apte's, is prone to bouts of shrill moral discrepancy that leaves us stunned.
Now where did that come from? I found myself asking this question at least a dozen times as I sat frozen in my seat resigned to the frenzied flurry of fate and serendipity that guides this utterly unpredictable tale of unhampered hankerings and unstoppable calamities.
But hang on. How do I review this film without giving away the plot? "Andhadhun" is a spoiler's paradise. There are so many twists in the plot that a more apt title according to me, would be "Aao Twist Karen" (for the record, the director confirms this was a title seriously considered). And none of these twists and turns in this sharply curved thriller is a red herring.
Everything and nothing makes sense in the morally unhinged world of Sriram Raghavan. People kill, maim, hoodwink and betray the unsuspecting at the drop of a hat.
The film's hero is a blind pianist, played with eclectic aplomb by Ayushmann Khurrana. We soon get to know the blind pianist is not blind after all. Though mercifully he remains a pianist right until the bitter battered finale when nemesis is no longer willing to stay huddled in a corner.
Raghavan's talented team of co-writers Arijit Biswas, Pooja Ladha Surti and Yogesh Chanderkar take the kinetic plot all over the place without losing its bearings. Just when we are getting to know the blind pianist, the narrative introduces a smouldering femme fatale, played by the resplendent Tabu, and her aging superstar-husband whom she may not want around for too long.
You know how these femme fatales are?
Before I move on -- as this film constantly forces you to do -- I must take a break to say that casting the 1970s' star Anil Dhawan as the fading superstar Pramod Kumar is a masterstroke. Dhawan has the hits and his character is as emptied of heft as an artiste as Dhawan was in his heydays.
Raghavan loves to adorn his thrillers with retro embellishments. In "Johnny Gaddar", he used the 1970s' hits with telling impact. This time in "Andhadhun", the filmmaker pulls out all the stops to envelope Anil Dhawan's character with a swirling retro-heat. Songs, scenes from Anil Dhawan's starrers swish by in tantalising glimpses. And to hear Ayushmann sing and play "Guzar jaaye din" from the Anil Dhawan-starrer "Annadata" is a joy that the grey-black characters cannot thwart.
This cannibalization of cinema history with fiction is in keeping with the narrative's mood of yoking personal details from the characters' lives with flights of fictional fantasy. We know the pianist-hero is not what he seems. But just how far his deception goes, comes as a shocker.
No one except the surprisingly insipid Radhika is to be trusted. There is a game-plan behind the seeming placidity that every character demonstrates. The remarkable fusion of colours and moods lends a blended brilliance to the frames.
In one sequence, the blind pianist plays on as a dead body appears in the frame. Red wine and blood mingle on the floor. Elsewhere, an old woman is hurled to her death from a skyscraper. As investigations go on, an abandoned school bag lies on the floor. Probably some child who was hastily bundled back home after the crime.
Death is never far away from the characters. They live with the fear of losing their lives. But they do not allow that fear to overrule their avarice and ambitions. This feeling of entrapped trepidation runs deep into the script. Even when the second-half becomes less elegantly chaotic than the first the narrative never fails to keep us on our toes.
We never know what may happen next in this saga of the raga and retribution, told with a verve and velocity that the suspense genre has never experienced before in Hindi cinema. So if you've been wondering why suspense films in Indian cinema seem so amateurish think no more.
"Andhadhun" is everything that a murder mystery should be. Filled with morally reprehensible characters including an absolutely debauched cop (dazzlingly slimy Manav Vij), it doesn't try to impress us with the right moral values.
God is on leave. And goodness is on a hunger strike in this film about greed, passion and nemesis.