Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Tabu, Radhika Apte, Anil DhawanDirector: Sriram Raghavan
If it weren’t for the macabre nature of the deed, a scene in Sriram Raghavan’s AndhaDhun – in which two people struggle to get rid of a corpse – could well pass off as something straight out of those classic silent era comedies. Never speaking a word, merely signaling instructions even as a piano theme drowns out the silence, the pair in question, or frankly the sheer physical interplay involved, is unmistakably reminiscent of a Chaplin or a Stan & Ollie short.
AndhaDhun is a film of many pleasures. And chief among them is the thrill of being constantly surprised. For the better part of the film, you’ll be glued to the screen, reluctant to so much as peek at your phone for fear of missing a crucial moment.
Ayushmann Khurrana is Akash, a blind pianist who somehow finds himself embroiled in a murder. But this isn’t a whodunit. The identity of the killer is never hidden from us, or even why the crime was committed. Like in his best films – Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddar and Badlapur – Raghavan is interested in exploring the darkness that resides within the hearts of ordinary people. A few of the characters in AndhaDhun are plain immoral, some are easily corruptible, and practically everyone has something to hide.
Akash is at the center of the story, but there’s a lot going on in the film. In a case of genius casting, yesteryear movie star Anil Dhawan plays Pramod Sinha, a yesteryear movie star still hung up on his glory days. He’s married to the seductive Simi (Tabu), who doesn’t share his enthusiasm for watching his old hits over and over again. Radhika Apte is Sophie, a young woman who befriends Akash, and into this mix Raghavan throws in an assortment of supporting players. It’s worth noting that every character – no matter how small the role – serves a very specific purpose in the script, including a naughty kid, and a seemingly random rabbit.
The unpredictable chain of events in AndhaDhun appears to occur in the moment – one accident leading to another, one misdeed triggering the next. But make no mistake, Raghavan and his co-writers (as many as four of them) exercise tight control on the characters and their actions, shrewdly choreographing every movement in the plot as per a larger design. The script uses humor – dollops of the dark kind – as the body count rises, frequently making you chuckle as terrible things happen to people that don’t necessarily deserve them.
In the second half, however, things become especially convoluted, and a bizarre organ-smuggling subplot threatens to derail the film. Thankfully, before that can happen the makers bring the narrative back on track, piling twist upon twist as it heads towards a crackling climax.
Consistently inspired performances from a solid ensemble is the fuel that powers this film. Manav Vij is especially good as the desperate cop who can feel the walls closing in on him, and Ashwini Kalsekar is a hoot as his hysterical wife. Although she isn’t required to do any of the heavy lifting, Radhika Apte is nicely convincing as an innocent and confused love interest, while Anil Dhawan sportingly sends himself up as an exaggerated, slightly sad version of himself. Ayushmann Khurrana really gets into his part, giving us a wholesome sense of Akash, warts and all, never letting his disability alone define him. Ayushmann is in solid form, better than he’s even been.
But, not surprisingly, the film’s towering performance comes from Tabu. Her Simi is a woman of many faces, and the actress makes a meal of the part.
It is to Raghavan’s credit that he packages this sinister thriller with such bells and whistles like popular 70s film songs and nods to Anil Dhawan’s own pulp hits. The result is a deliciously twisted film that delivers more fun than any other Hindi movie this year. I’m going with four out of five for AndhaDhun. Don’t miss it.