Raat Akeli Hai Review: This Good Old Mystery Shines A Light On The Curse Of Patriarchy

Female trafficking, rape, and domestic oppression of wives form important narratives in the film. But in a bid to battle patriarchy, the story does not whitewash women, and neither does it hyper-masculinise men.

Tanvi Akhauri
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Raat Akeli Hai Review: This Good Old Mystery Shines A Light On The Curse Of Patriarchy

Few things in the world can match the satisfaction that a good mystery plot offers. And Raat Akeli Hai is the freshest evidence to confirm this. Maybe I'm being selfish, but it was favourable for this crime thriller to have been confined to an OTT Netflix release on July 31, because stories such as these etch out best in cosier corners than noisy theatres. The film, casting director Honey Trehan's directorial debut, covers all the bases of a dark, gripping whodunnit that keeps you guessing throughout its two and a half-hour run. The locked-room mystery crowded with a stellar ensemble cast does not impress as much as it awes but makes for a definite one time watch.


Synopsis (No Spoilers) 

The story is set in a small town in Uttar Pradesh where gun fire celebration at weddings is an everyday affair. Using this opportunity, someone murders patriarch Raghubeer Yadav on the night of his wedding. Jatil Yadav (unrelated; Yadav is a common surname in UP), played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is summoned to the scene of the crime, and immediately announces that each member of Raghubeer’s clan living in his haveli is the suspect. He is not, however, able to wrap his head around the newest member of their family - Radha (played by Radhika Apte), Raghubeer’s new bride. Thereon begins a plot dipped in suspense, complete with politicians, contract killers, and an important flashback to five years ago.

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In Raat Akeli Hai, The Plot Is The Protagonist 

While Raat Akeli Hai commemorates Dev Anand’s Jewel Thief in its title borrowed from a song from the 1967 classic, it has the built of a film noir from 1950s Hollywood. But enough masala has been added for the desi audience. There are romantic plots interweaved into the mystery that, owing to its plot, bears resemblance to Rian Johnson’s Oscar-nominated Knives Out (2019) and Agatha Christie’s iconic novel Murder On The Orient Express (1934). We haven't seen much of this genre in Bollywood, so Raat Akeli Hai's rendition of it is rather refreshing.

Trehan's expert frames in the film are nothing less than that of a seasoned filmmaker, indicating that he has a steady hand for direction. The shots are neither frilly nor frivolous, communicating the mood perfectly. Karan Kulkarni’s background score is fantastic and blends seamlessly into Trehan’s settings. Both ensure that the audience doesn't lose focus of the events in a search for cinematic brilliance. Because in Raat Akeli Hai, the plot takes centre stage.


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The Film Boasts Of A Brilliant Ensemble Cast

The film does not belong to either Siddiqui or Apte, who continue their Sacred Games liaison, but finds its prime worth in the rest of the cast. And expectedly so, since their very titles are talent-heavy. Raghubeer Yadav’s family features the best of the best, from known faces such as Shweta Tripathi, Aditya Srivastava, and Tigmanshu Dhulia, to newer finds like Nishant Dahiya. Each is more convincing than the last, and don't let down their mysterious guards for a single moment to drop hints, which leaves you equal parts frustrated and intrigued. 

Siddiqui once again reprises his role as the arrogant, politically incorrect character that one can't help but automatically associate with his Ganesh Gaitonde from Sacred Games. This can be credited to the film’s writer Smita Singh, who also wrote for the web series. In his overbearing manner, Jatil Yadav tells his mother, flawlessly played by Ila Arun, that he doesn't want to marry a girl who can't dress decently or lacks sanskaar. Her pleasantly (and unconsciously) feminist rebuttal that he shouldn't expect to find a girl jo "muh khole toh bhajan tapke" is dismissed by him with a domineering hand. Yeah, he's that kind of a guy.

As fate would have it, he falls in love with the ferocious Radha who has a mind of her own and a mouth that speaks without fear, and Apte, as expected, plays her to perfection. In fact, Siddiqui and Apte were both cushions, in case the plot or the rest of the cast dynamics didn't work out, since the audience has now become used to relying on these two for predictably good performances. And perhaps that's why they didn't shine as bright in Raat Akeli Hai as their co-stars did.

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Patriarchy Is The Main Curse In The Film

Women are pivotal to the film, and Trehan’s quote to PTI, “My film is about patriarchy which is a curse under which we all are living” tells us why. It is women who make up most of the Yadav family, and who drive the story forward. Female trafficking, rape, and domestic oppression of wives form important narratives in the film. But in a bid to battle patriarchy, the story does not whitewash women, and neither does it hyper-masculinise men. Dahiya as Vikram Singh talks soft and sheds a tear where necessary, while Padmavati Rao as the surviving Yadav matriarch has a dark past. There’s more to each character than we are let on in the beginning.

Raat Akeli Hai maintains a good pace, but not consistently. Some of the plot points have been made to appear unnecessarily complex, while some lose track midway, and the film could have easily been cut down by half an hour at least. But that’s the thing with good mystery plots. Even though they may sometimes boil over a low flame, they keep you hooked until the murderer is brought to justice in a big reveal at the end. And Raat Akeli Hai succeeds in doing that with ease. 

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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