By Shreehari H
Sriram Raghavan’s film opens, quite literally, with a bang. A man points the barrel of his firearm towards an uninvited furry guest – one which, as it turns out, has been chomping on the seemingly endless acreage of cabbage plants on his farm. The latter, promptly sensing danger, sets off on a merry run, causing his pursuer to stumble, struggle and eventually stagger into a scarecrow, and it is indeed fun watching this one-eyed creature putting a fully grown human in his place. When the twain finally meet – on a highway, of all places – the trigger is pressed at long last. The victim of that bullet, however, remains unclear: nothing is what it seems in a Raghavan film.
Andhadhun is, quite simply put, an audacious, outrageous masterpiece. This is a film in which humans are not the only species capable of playing the piano, one in which an erstwhile leading actress has an important role to play without starring in the film in the first place. The detailing is exquisite: a woman drinks from a mug captioned “his” and her male counterpart swigs from another entitled “hers”, a policeman eats sixteen eggs daily in a bid to outgrow his own bulging biceps, and a blind man wears a shirt titled “selfie” at a time when taking a permanent digital imprint of his rather photogenic features would probably be the least of his concerns. A character unleashes into an outburst when all she really wants to do is laugh, and later laughs when all she really wants to do is shout, and a man who swears his life by the piano indulges in a little harmless finger-practice while waiting for a sub. The piano that he plays on then is literally woven out of thin air, as far removed as possible from those lovely grandiloquent sets that he’s so accustomed to by now – but then again, the sound of music is one that doesn’t necessarily need to be heard by those who create it.
The characters are uniformly spectacular, and their motivations best left undivulged. The delight here lies in trying to unpeel the film, layer after delicious layer, and the performances do the film justice. Ayushmann Khurrana is riveting in his portrayal of the sightless pianist, and Radhika continues to underline the ‘apt’ in Apte for what might well be the umpteenth time this year. There’s an unmistakable undercurrent of nostalgia as well: the film doffs its hat to programmes as varied as Chhaya Geet and Chitrahaar, and Anil Dhawan plays a yesteryear star obsessed with his own films – Chetna, Honeymoon and Darwaza.
The film, however, unquestionably belongs to Tabu. She gives an incredible performance, centred on her unhingedness and on the sheer inscrutability of her face. “Kehte hain crab meat is an aphrodisiac,” she says with all the lecherousness she can muster, even as she sets about boiling the poor crustacean after having just removed it from the refrigerator. “Spelling mat poochna. Matlab chahiye to bataa sakti hoon.”
Wordlessness befits the film. A significant portion of the proceedings takes place with only the superlative background score serving as its narrative propellant, and a scene towards the early stages of the film where an entire event unfolds over the course of a piano solo is so masterfully executed that even thinking about it now makes me grin from ear to ear.
Andhadhun is the finest Bollywood thriller to have released ever since Meghna Gulzar’s unforgettable Talvar in 2015, and arguably the best Hindi film I have seen since Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Mukti Bhawan last year. For a film that unspools itself with such delectable finesse, its last, glorious twist is one that is predicated on its very last frame. Khurrana, for his part, rises to the occasion admirably, and beneath that (mostly) unruffled exterior of his lies an incessantly machinating brain, forever struggling to navigate its way through one perilous situation after another. Don’t judge this man by his glasses. He may be visually impaired, but that doesn’t mean he can’t see through people.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Shreehari H is a lover of films and an even greater lover of writing.
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