Mumbai, 05 Oct 2018 5:00 IST
While the second half goes off at a tangent, director Sriram Raghavan still manages to create enough suspense and drama to keep you on the edge.
Strong-willed souls despise sympathy, but Sriram Raghavan’s protagonist, the blind pianist Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana), revels in it. As he says, “Andhe hone ke problems toh sabko pata hain, faayde main batata hoon [Everyone knows the downside of blindness, let me tell you the benefits]."
The gifted Akash uses his handicap to woo Sophie (Radhika Apte) and land himself a job at her father’s plush restaurant in Pune. Out there, Akash catches the eye of yesteryear film star Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan) who gives him hefty tips.
One day, Sinha requests Akash to play privately for him in his home, as a surprise anniversary gift for his wife Simi (Tabu). Unfortunately, the events that unfold that afternoon bring no harmony but turn Akash’s life into melancholy. A man who harboured the dream of becoming the next Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder now struggles to locate the key that will get him out of this bloody mess.
Subsequent events trigger a symphony of mysteries. Every artiste has a dark secret, and the poor man battles hard to protect his. Akash's life depends upon a liver and for good reason. Best for the viewers to unravel this mystery.
In the 'Raabta' song from Agent Vinod (2012), director Sriram Raghavan had a blind woman playing a melody oblivious to the shootout taking place around her. Was that the inspiration for Andhadhun? Maybe, but Sriram Raghavan’s film was initially also compared with François Truffaut’s new-wave French drama Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (1960) aka Shoot The Piano Player.
While Akash is a target, Andhadhun also draws inspiration from Olivier Treiner’s short film L'Accordeur (2010), or The Piano Tuner. Now we haven’t seen the short film, so Andhadhun has to be gauged purely by the director's vision. Sriram Raghavan has been aided by Arijit Biswas, Yogesh Chandekar and Pooja Surthi in penning this story.
It is natural to have twists and turns in a dark, suspense drama, but the two halves of the film are like chalk and cheese. The director takes you on a particular path and then the film drastically changes track, playing to unexpected tunes.
More than the plot, however, it is the bizarre screenplay in the second half that hits you like a bolt from the blue. Up to the interval, Andhadhun seems like a gripping thriller, a potboiler, but the colour and texture change thereafter. Andhadhun turns darker in the second half, though Sriram Raghavan coats it with dark humour. Chhaya Kadam and Zakir Hussain (as Dr Swami) play some weird characters whose greed and motives fluctuate like the tune when a pianist sweeps his fingers to and fro. Trust anyone and you could be doomed.
Andhadhun is also a term that means indiscriminate, as in indiscriminate firing. The second half of the film does feel like that. The title, though, has metaphorical significance for its blind pianist.
Where the film scores is in the performances by the cast, led by Khurrana. He has often played simple, light-hearted, jovial characters in romantic dramas. With Andhadhun, he plays a new tune, in a new genre. Though this is his maiden foray into neo-noir, Khurrana does not lose his wit or his shyness that made him a hit with family audiences. Akash is as vulnerable as Prem Kumar Tiwari from Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), as soft-spoken as Mudit from Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017).
Sriram Raghavan's protagonist is seldom defined in black or white; he/she has grey shades, too. The filmmaker likes his protagonist to undergo a certain transformation, as we have seen in Johhny Gaddaar (2007) or in Badlapur (2015). Akash is not quite in the mould of a Vikram (Neil Nitin Mukesh) from Johnny Gaddaar or a Raghav (Varun Dhawan) from Badlapur, but he has his dirty secrets. Khurrana’s performance is not a masterpiece, but you have to doff your hat to this artiste.
Not since Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool (2003) have we seen Tabu in a Lady Macbeth avatar. Maqbool's Nimmi, though, was a more emotionally draining, intense character. Emotion counts for nothing to Andhadhun's Simi. She is cold as ice. Simi is not funny, but her acts evoke a sense of humour. Overall, Tabu is competent, but there are moments when her character appears too good to be true.
The story does not allow much space for Radhika Apte, but she is competent in her act The man who arouses your curiosity, however, is forlorn actor Anil Dhawan. The man enjoyed some success in the 1970s. After all these years, Dhawan finds a role that he was born to do, that too at age 67. Who would have thought that popular Mohammed Rafi song 'Teri Galiyon Mein' from Sawan Kumar’s Hawas (1974) would be so apt for his character in Andhadhun.
Manav Vij and Ashwini Kalsekar play pivotal roles, but it’s best for the audience to discover their stories, which are integral to the principal plot.
Given the nature of its two extreme halves, it is difficult to judge Andhadhun in totality. The first half is brilliant, the second, perhaps, throws one twist too many, but the film still manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. It has visual appeal, the music is relevant and entertaining. At 140 minutes, the film could have been trimmed a bit in the second half. Despite these cons, Andhadhun does enthral lovers of film noir.
When the end credits roll, we see visuals of yesteryear actors who played the piano in iconic Hindi film songs. Sriram Raghavan has called his Andhadhun a tribute to Hindi cinema's starry pianists. The film, though, is more a tribute to the Truffauts and the Treiners. Go tune into this Andhadhun.
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