The opening sequence of Raat Akeli Hai plays out entirely in the dark with nearly no dialogues. A truck chasing a car, a subsequent crash, a murder, an aerial shot of two bodies being taken to an undisclosed location and a bone-chilling cry. We are just about settling in trying to make sense of the silhouettes and what they mean. And this sets the tone. Economical with its dialogues and a sophisticated thriller, Raat Akeli Hai creates an enchanting world where Honey Trehan’s grip on the narrative rarely slips.
Soon we meet Jatil Yadav aka Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who fits into any role with deceptive ease. Yadav is attending a colleague’s wedding with his mom, the delightful Ila Arun. While she slyly shows his picture to prospective brides he soon gets busy with solving the murder of a highly influential man. Details bleed out slowly.
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A whodunnit that doesn’t have many “pulling the rug from under our feet moments” but an assiduously mounted plot where every character has an identity and a role to play , irrespective of how small their screen time is.
The story and screenplay by Smita Singh gives us many moments when we simply hold our breath, being drawn into this maze of hidden secrets and rotten past.
Raghubeer Singh ( Khalid Tyabji) is found dead in his room the night he got married to a much younger woman he apparently had exploited and bought. Jatil Yadav is a tough man, and unlike how Bollywood romanticises proclivity to brutal force as a sign of power and manliness, Yadav speaks straight and does the right thing without making a show of it.
His commitment is to his work and if that means standing up to bullying by politicians or higher ups, Jatil refuses to buckle. On a mission to unearth the truth, we meet many characters. Radha, who Radhika Apte plays vociferously, her face registering loneliness and cynicism as also a dark vulnerability. The deceased ‘s nephew Vikram is essayed by an effective Nishant Dahiya, while the brother-in-law is played by Swanand Kirkire, who always melts into his role effortlessly. Riya Shukla is impressive as the house-help Chunni, as are Aditya Srivastava as the local MLA and Tigmanshu Dhulia as SSP Shukla. The ensemble cast has many such welcome additions like Shreedhar Dubey, Shivani Raghuvanshi. , Shweta Tripathi , Gyanendra Tripathi and Padmavat Rao.
It’s interesting to see how the film never resorts to unnecessary use of violence, abusive language or misogyny. The prejudices, arm-twisting and berating law and order all happens but it never falls prey to the easy lure of showing explicit violence or abuse.
The steady throbbing pace holds the narrative together. Women have agency, and even in this patriarchal set-up they are allowed a dignified fight. When Jatil Yadav berates his mother about finding a shareef woman she nonchalantly replies “tumhe koi nahi ladki mili nahi isliye sabhi ladkiyan kharab”. A twist on India’s fairness obsessed marriage market is also introduced.
Editor A. Sreekar Prasad sculpts the film masterfully and Honey Trehan allows for contemplation as he builds anticipation and tension without relying on cliches .
Raat akeli Hai seduces the audience with subtlety.
Our rating: 4 quints out of 5!