LICH rating: (4.5 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)
There’s much to relish in director Sriram Raghavan‘s latest outing that’s packed with references, sly hat-tips, and clever plotlines, all of which make it one of 2018’s top notch Hindi movies. There’s the title to begin, a wordplay on the original Hindi andhadhund which combines the words ‘blind’ and ‘haze’, delivering a word that means ‘indiscriminately rash or violent’ in most references. The movie, however, is called Andhadhun that subsumes all elements of andhadund, and yet itself literally translates to Blind Tune.
With an opening that’s wildly original, you’re taken into the blind, stumbling world of pianist Akash (Ayushmann Khurana) who’s surest moments are plinking half-steps and full-steps on his piano in an NGO-run studio room in Pune. He’s looking to fly off to London for a big break, mend his eyes, and of course nothing of the sort happens. Instead, he runs into Sophie (Radhika Apte)—to be technically accurate, she runs into him and a sweet, melodic relationship blossoms in her father’s quaint diner, Franco’s. In a lovely casting coup of sorts, Franco is played by Franco Vaz, erstwhile magical drummer in magician composer Rahul Dev Burman‘s splendid orchestra. Akash lands a piano-playing gig at Franco’s which is where he meets the other inspired casting of the movie—former superstar Pramod Sinha, played with a laid-back sense of fun by Anil Dhawan. Sinha’s an addict—of his own movies that he keeps playing in a loop on YouTube and on his bedroom TV to much eye-rolling by his much younger wife, Simi (Tabu). They have a daughter from his earlier marriage who keeps tabs on papa’s health via Simi ‘aunty’—a reference that the lady hates; not because she wants to be called mommy, really: she’d much rather the girl drop the obnoxious ‘aunty’ in her address.
It is also in Franco’s that Akash gets invited to Sinha’s house for a private concert of sorts, and this is where the plot changes gears and then never stops changing them. Director Raghavan, co-writing with Arijit Biswas, Yogesh Chandekar, Hemanth Rao, and Pooja Ladha Surti, sets up the construct of characters beautifully up until now, and then proceeds to malleate out their quirks, foibles and dark sides. Add Inspector Manohar Jawanda (Manav Vij) and his wife Rasika (Ashwini Kalsekar), a lottery-ticket seller (Chaya Kadam), a rickshaw driver, and the seemingly kind doctor Swami (Zakir Hussain), and you get a smorgasbord of wily, plotting characters who won’t—and don’t—hesitate to kill; who have their survival to think of; for whom bankruptcy is fine in their current account of morals, but elsewhere moolah is the currency to get out—and stay—alive.
Andhadhun, based on a French short, The Piano Tuner, is a triumph on all fronts. The story simmers and jaunts on crackling ideas and dialogues. Every frame is immaculately conceived and the end credits listed a storyboard artist, reminding me of Alfred Hitchcock who ensured detailed storyboarding for every project, so when he went in to shoot, he knew exactly where to place the cameras and mark his actors. And there are references to the master director who could draw a chuckle as lithely as he could draw blood, as does Raghavan here. But then the movie is references galore—a nod here to Tabu’s magnificent turn in Maqbool; a doff to the underground club—including the tracking shot leading to the pianist—in Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land; a decadently delightful dedication to Chayageet and Chitrahaar from Doordarshan’s halcyon days; a loving tribute to Rahul Dev Burman (aka Pancham’s) date of birth, here a date that kicks off mayhem unlimited that’s set to his classic Ye Jo Mohabbat Hai number on the piano; tributes to composers Usha Khanna, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, and Salil Choudhary that also add depth to the goings on; an end-credits montage of homage to the grand piano from yesteryear Hindi movies.
Composer Daniel B George uses the piano extensively in his background score, adding ominous notes that do everything to add to the fun, but the highlight is the gavotte-like piece to mark the cleaning up after a murder in a scene where everyone—except the dead body—is playing dead man’s bluff. Amit Trivedi‘s songs are peppy and energetic, but how I wish the Panchamish Aap Se Milkar was used in the main proceedings rather than at the very end. Stringing all these musical pieces is pianist Jarvis Menezes creating feather-touch like magic on the grand instrument. Cinemtaographer K.U. Mohanan captures the zeitgeist and charm of Pune wondrously with his lens; just as he shoots the darker scenes with devilish joy—you never knowing who will jump into the frame next to do what.
The movie also scores on that very critical scale of twists and unexpected jumps galore. Every character—and the dead bodies—are introduced when you least expect anything to happen. Much like the sudden stab and twist of a well-trained knife. Worse, nothing’s what it seems to be, you don’t know who you can trust—certainly not the director and his writers, who lull you into believing what you see in the end. And yet, even in the macabre, you can’t help chuckle—watch a pair of spectacles getting irritatingly stuck in a mass of hair; or in a scene where the inspector’s wife, Rasika, suggests employing a sketch artist—you guffaw involuntarily.
Raising the scales of achievement of this splendid movie is its cast: Tabu is marvelous, simply hypnotic, simultaneously summoning the powers of subtle titillation, made-up helplessness, and blazing merciless power, even as she breaks down in a scene—but that’s all the time she has for redemption. Radhika Apte is so natural, she’s outstanding: not once does her acting seem that, her dialogue an everyday delivery of effectiveness. Ayushmann Khurana, who trained some months to play the piano for this role, revels in his multi-shaded character, playing him with a deft, sure-footed mastery, hitting all the right notes across the story-scape. Director Raghavan uses his favorite motif—the train—as effectively as he did in Johnny Gaddar (there, a tribute to Parwana, a murder mystery steeped in romantic jealousy,) and in the dark, wonderful revenge-and-self-discovery journey of Badlapur. Here, when the trains clatter by, you hope there’s nothing murderous waiting after the noise dies down. There’s no point, really. All you want to tell Khurrana’s Akash—as you want to to anyone who hasn’t watched the movie yet—run, rabbit run.
LICH ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
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Andhadun is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s mild sensuality, murder, and macabre delight.
Director Sriram Raghavan Running Time 2h 19min
Writers Sriram Raghavan, Arijit Biswas, Yogesh Chandekar, Hemanth Rao, Pooja Ladha Surti
Stars Ayushmann Khurana, Tabu, Radhika Apte, Anil Dhawan, Manav Vij, Ashwini Kalsekar
Genres Comedy, Mystery, Thriller
Watch the trailer of Andhadhun here: