Raat Akeli Hai movie review: Honey Trehan's atmospheric whodunnit will keep you on your toes
Honey Trehan's whodunnit, Raat Akeli Hai, which premiered on Netflix on 31 July, ticks all the right boxes.
castRadhika Apte, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ila Arun, Shweta Tripathi, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Nishant Dahiya, Shalini Raghuvanshi, Nishant Dahiya
When a casting director makes a film, the characters pop out like the fingers of an unclenched fist.
And Honey Trehan's whodunnit, Raat Akeli Hai, which premiered on Netflix on 31 July, ticks all the right boxes. Stellar cast; a definitive murder-mystery crafted like a slow-burn thriller; notable characters; fantastically atmospheric visuals; a haunting background score and a twist you will not see coming.
In the interest of murder-mystery aficionados, it's important to note that you may not be stumped by the climax, but I genuinely believe we've been spoilt by modern whodunnits that aim to hold you spellbound with the big reveal rather than take you on a cinematic journey. This is where Raat Akeli Hai differs; it lets the story breathe, with no pressure to stun the audiences at every turning point in a bid to buy your interest. The film shares its vibe with Rian Jonson's sleeper hit Knives Out (2019) in its ability to transport you to a world that Honey Trehan crafts so beautifully, without making you — the viewer — the centre of attention. Instead, Raat Akeli Hai (like Knives Out) focuses on telling you a story of a family, their secrets and their inter-personal history. All the while keeping you on your feet with guesses and theories, as the film unravels like a tease.
Raat Akeli Hai begins with the death of a powerful politician in Kanpur, Thakur Raghubeer Singh (Khalid Tyabji), in his own house, on his wedding night. He was due to marry Radha (Radhika Apte), and this was not his first marriage. Everyone present in the house is a suspect. The joint family comprises Raghubeer Singh's sister, his niece Vasudha (Shalini Raghuvanshi) and nephew Vikram (Nishant Dahiya), his daughter Karuna (Shweta Tripathi) who is pregnant, their domestic help Chunni (who plays an important role in the scheme of things) and Radha, who has been living in the house before the wedding too, as Raghubeer's mistress.
Enter Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a brave and honest cop, with copious amounts of swag, who will leave no stone unturned, as he says to the family when he meets them, "yeh ko kaand hua hai na, uski karenge hum jaanch," in his signature UP twang. He lives with his mother (the marvellous Ila Arun who brings a sense of badassery to her mom role), uses "fair and lovely" on the sly, prefers fried rice to noodles so he can eat elegantly, and hates that his mom is always talking to him about getting married, but secretly wants a life-partner (he rattles out his preferred qualities in a woman, unprovoked). Nawaz and Ila Arun's camaraderie brings some comic relief in an otherwise thematically-intense narrative.
Each of the other characters in the film are given their day in the sun as Jatil Yadav scans through them. With backstories, secret motives and truths they are keeping hidden, everyone has a motive to kill — from Radha, who, we find out, was in an abusive relationship with Raghubeer, to Vikram, who was an equal partner in the family land and business. Raghubeer's political connections also unravel as we see how the commissioner (Tigmanshu Dhulia, whose charismatic screen presence always raises the stakes) and independent MLA Munna Raja (Aditya Shrivastava of CID fame) are also suspects.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui has, perhaps, the meatiest part in a film that understands the weightage of character arcs all too well, and he performs Jatil Yadav almost like he's never given us memorable characters in the past.
Raat Akeli Hai sends you on a wild goose chase, exploring the shady dealings between the police-politicians nexus in UP and a rich, reputable family fighting for relevance in their small community. As the secrets start tumbling out, the story gets darker, making you question who you really side with, and whose motivations you believe. Pankaj Kumar's cinematography, A Sreekar Prasad's pacy editing and a thrilling soundtrack by Sneha Khanwalkar add to the film's macabre aura, giving writer Smita Singh (Sacred Games) and Honey Trehan's vision wings to fly. Even when the story slightly dips in the second half, the visuals and background score keep your attention at 100 percent, never letting your eyes and ears wander.
Despite so much to grab your attention, this is Jatil Yadav's mystery and he will solve it, one way or another, despite human or situational adversaries. I have to admit, I am a big sucker for whodunnits and always try to guess the killer/perpetrator within the first 30 minutes of the story (it's usually when you are given hints about who it could be if you are looking hard enough). Even though Raat Akeli Hai is structured like a typical whodunnit, it doesn't play by conventional rules.
Honey Trehan has put together the cast of various films such as Maqbool, Omkara, Fukrey, Dedh Ishqiya, Raees and Hindi Medium among many others, and has also worked as an assistant director to filmmakers like Vishal Bhardwaj and Abhishek Chaubey. Chaubey and Trehan have also produced films like A Death In The Gunj and Sonchiriya. The legacy shows in Trehan's deft directorial debut. This is a smashing start, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
Raat Akeli Hai is streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:
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