Raat Akeli Hai review: Nawazuddin-starrer is sufficiently twisty

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Written by Shubhra Gupta

Updated: July 31, 2020 3:38:20 pm

Raat Akeli Hai Raat Akeli Hai is streaming on Netflix.

Raat Akeli Hai movie cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Ila Arun, Nishant Dahiya, Swanand Kirkire, Aditya Srivastava, Khalid Tyabji
Raat Akeli Hai movie director: Honey Trehan
Raat Akeli Hai movie rating: Three stars

A haveli is all lit up, and wedding festivities are underway. Guests are milling about. But there’s an undercurrent of unease, a ‘something evil this way comes’ kind of feeling. The groom lies dead, on his bed, his head all bloody. Whodunnit? Raat Akeli Hai launches a small-town cop on a dusty trail strewn with curdled passions, where he learns the crucial lesson that governs almost all crimes involving humans: to dig into the present, you have to excavate the past.

The sleuth who functions as the moral centre of a dark universe is a familiar crime noir trope. Raat Akeli Hai refreshes it, and gives us an all too human cop (Siddiqui) in a small UP town, who has many fronts open: from his own acerbic-but-loving mother (Arun, wonderful) to his embedded-in-local-power-structures senior (Dhulia, good fit), to the members of the family of the dead man, none of whom show genuine grief. They are too busy grousing at a young woman (Apte), who had ‘illicit relations with the deceased’, and who has a special space in the house.

The strength of a film like this is in the way it creates the set-up and characters, and how it takes us down the path to where the answers are. Raat Akeli Hai is darkly atmospheric and sufficiently twisty, and though it does telegraph a few of its punches (you know, for example, what’s going to happen to a character as soon as the story progresses to her), it keeps enough rancid tricks up its sleeve, right till the end.

We’ve seen Nawazuddin as a policeman before (Kahaani), but his recent criminal turns have taken over our memory. It’s nice to see him arrayed on the other side, giving us a glimpse into his character’s vulnerabilities. Apte, who had also been coming off much too-familiar, digs her teeth into her woman wronged: she knows that she isn’t always in the right, but she knows what is right.

The other characters are sketched with enough detail to make them interesting. A family forced to live with the degrading sexual proclivities of the man who gives them a roof, learns to keep its mouth shut, till a tragedy forces open the can and the worms start wriggling: an old woman hovering over a tightly-wound girl (Raghuvanshi), sons with an eye on the main chance, daughters (Tripathi) and sons-in-law waiting for their share of the bounty.

Something about the putrid goings-on reminded me of the great Raymond Chandler thrillers, in which private eye Phillip Marlowe gumshoes around homes where no one is clean, everyone has something hide. I also flashed back to 2007’s Manorama Six Feet Under, which borrowed its sense of uneasy mystery from the Hollywood classic Chinatown. A few of the bits and pieces in Raat Akeli Hai feel a bit contrived, but not enough to take the enjoyment away from a film which has a terrific sense of time and place, and a crime in which everyone has stakes.

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