‘Raat Akeli Hai’ review: A slow burn that singes when it keeps its focus

The song, composed by the timeless, ageless composer Sachin Dev Burman, and sung by Asha Bhosle, her vocals adorned with the same qualities, opens up coyly, demurely, tip-toeing shyly yet seductively. And then toward the end of the stanza, the song and its singer open up in a flood of assertive, damn-it-all, demanding energy. That spectrum is what Inspector Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) experiences, albeit in his expectations of the ideal woman (in his mind) and who he ultimately falls for. 

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a dogged cop.

However, Raat Akeli Hai (The Night is Lonely) written by Smita Singh and debut-directed by Honey Trehan (thus far shining as a casting director in movies such asSonchiriyaTumbbadUdta Punjab, and the Fukrey series) is more than just the male expectations on cloud versus a first-look response, or how so many men are conditioned to silo women and quickly paste their binary markers: homely or slut. Kept on simmer mode all through, the movie opens to Jatil, having dodged another marital proposal bullet at a wedding, shot at him by his persistent and insistent mother (Ila Arun, simply adorable), being called upon to investigate a murder at another wedding. The patriarch, Raghubeer Singh (Khalid Tyabji) is found dead on his bed, and his extended family and the new bride, Radha (Radhika Apte) are all suspects, of course. But nothing’s what it seems in this richly textured and dark-hued movie. And the aptly named Jatil (which translates to complex), as he sets out to unravel this complex case, comes up with only one suspect at every dodgy and dark corner: Radha. Pressure on him increases from all sides — much like he squeezes out every ounce from his hidden in plain sight fairness cream tube, his self-trope to match his dream girl-trope — including from his boss SSP Lalji Shukla (Tigmanshu Dhulia), his subordinate Nandu (a superb Shreedhar Dubey), and the local politico Munna Raja (Aditya Srivastava in top form). 

Radhika Apte is a whipping firefly.

The movie’s weaving and interweaving are part China Town (how many of them this year?) part Agatha Christie, and all dogged procedural. But there’s more to it than the slow peeling of layers revealing murkier layers. It’s that unflinching look at the rapacious grip that’s one hand pernicious patriarchy and the other hand manipulative matriarchy on the wrist of its characters that stabs slowest and deepest. Aided by a fantastic cast — Shweta TripathiShivani RaghuvanshiNishant DahiyaPadmavati RaoSwanand KirkireRiya Shukla — all stewing in its mendacious juice, Raat Akeli Hai delivers the goods for the most part. What derails the train from its journey in a red-hot furnace is the extended scenes towards the end, pre-denouement, between Jatil and Radha. That pretty much takes out the steam and adds a dash of preposterousness to the story track. Fortunately, though, that’s a temporary setback in this otherwise finely laid out and framed experience by director Trehan and cinematographer Pankaj Kumar, with Karan Kulkarni’s background score adding to the moody bylanes. 

Shreedhar Dubey and Nawazuddin get the case slapped across them.

As Radha, Radhika Apte delivers a solid performance, her eyes searching for an elusive redemption in a criss-cross of hope and despair. And Nawazuddin Siddique handles Jatil’s complexity with the ease of a cigarette puff. His expressions recalibrate in every scene, keeping up with the story’s unraveling; and like a wax layer melting at a steady rate, revealing his character’s feelings to slowly expose like a wound from way back when. Much like Dada Burman’s vinyl cut that never stops haunting, the cuts that love inflicts never really get stitched up. 

Raat Akeli Hai (2020) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Raat Akeli Hai is streaming on Netflix and is rated A (Adults only) for brief magazine nudity, violence, and intense sequences.
Raat Akeli Hai
Director Honey Trehan Time 2h 29min
Writer Smita Singh
Stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Shreedhar Dubey
Genres Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Watch the trailer of Raat Akeli Hai here.