When it comes to crime and thrillers in Bollywood, there is no one better than Sriram Raghavan. From “Johnny Gaddar” to “Ek Haseena Thi” the filmmaker has managed to perfect the Indian thriller genre by borrowing stylistic elements from Alfred Hitchcock and the Coen brothers.
In his latest, “Andhadhun” (Reckless), Raghavan pulls off this tricky combination once again by giving us a slick mystery that lets the audience in on all the secrets and still keeps them at the edge of their seats. What is kept hidden are traits - foibles that make the characters who they are and what drive them towards their actions. As the film peels the layers of these actions, the story comes alive.
An official adaption of the French short film “The Piano Tuner”, “Andhadhun” is set in Pune, much like several of the director’s earlier films. Raghavan (who co-wrote the film with Pooja Ladha Surti, Arijit Biswas, Yogesh Chandekar and Hemanth Rao) gives us a protagonist who is blind, or at least appears to be. Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a piano player who lost his sight as a teenager, but his handicap doesn’t hinder his music. One day, he meets restaurateur Sophie (Radhika Apte), who offers him a gig playing the piano for her patrons.
Akash takes it up, and one evening at the restaurant, he runs into Pramod Sinha (David Dhawan) a yesteryear Bollywood star who now runs a real estate business. Impressed by Akash’s skill with the piano, Sinha invites the musician to his residence for a private concert as a surprise for his much younger wife Simi (Tabu).
It’s difficult to say more without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say that from this point on, “Andhadhun” doesn’t let up. At times, especially as it hurtles towards the end, it seems to get too complicated, with more plot points and convolutions than necessary. It’s almost as if, having set up a great set-piece, Raghavan doesn’t know what to do with it. There are chase sequences, a disingenuous doctor, organ transplants and a rabbit eating cabbages - all of which form part of the story.
It might be complicated, but it’s great fun. And the cast seems to know it. Both Khurrana and Tabu are top-notch. Tabu seems to play the femme fatale better than anyone else in this industry - she is at once coy, then vulnerable and then ruthless, making this one of her most memorable roles. Khurrana is pitch perfect as Akash, playing him with the deadpan expression required for the film’s most inscrutable character. Even smaller players have space in this film. Ashwini Kalsekar as the fiery wife of the policeman investigating a murder is wonderful, as is Manav Vij, who plays her husband.
Bollywood doesn’t make too many thrillers and when it does, they don’t always measure up. “Andhadhun” ticks all the right boxes. This one should be savoured.