Grabs you by the (eye) balls!

Oct 03, 2018, 06:07 IST | Mayank Shekhar

Why director Sriram Raghavan's Andhadhun, which opens in theatres this Friday, is a cracker of a suspense-thriller

Grabs you by the (eye) balls!
You only have to watch Tabu simultaneously display calm and frayed nerves, with a dead body and a blind pianist (Ayushmann Khurana) in her house, to realise how that scene alone should be a masterclass in film performance

Mayank ShekharEven before he made his directorial debut with Ek Haseena Thi (2004), produced by Ram Gopal Varma, director Sriram Raghavan, 55, was spoken of in highly reverential terms among film-buffs — chiefly for his FTII diploma film, from the late '80s. Titled The Eight Column Affair (edited by Rajkumar Hirani, with Nana Patekar in a cameo), the 30-minuter (available on YouTube) literally shows news coming alive, "when an athlete featured on the front page of a newspaper, falls in love with a tennis starlet, featured on the last page!"

Whatever you may think of his features thereafter (and there are only five), Raghavan's stature has only grown over the years as a bit of a master of the suspense-thriller, packaged entertainment. But more so as a filmmaker's filmmaker, given that discussion on his movies, particularly in geek circles, have centred on individual scenes/sequences, even references (James Hadley Chase) and nods (Vijay Anand), rather than merely plot, or performances, or box office figures alone.

These could range from the cracker of a moving train-robbery-scuffle sequence, shot stylishly by CK Muraleedharan, in the captivatingly retro, neo-noir Johnny Gaddaar (2007), to even the song Raabta, shot completely in one take, in Agent Vinod (2012). Or, for that matter, the first 10-15 minutes in Badlapur (2015), that prompted the film's tagline, "Don't miss the beginning!" Which is of course a nod of sorts to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), that had the famous tagline, "Don't give away the ending — it's the only one we have!"

I don't know how many people know this, but petty much through his entire career, Hitchcock was not even perceived as a serious filmmaker by the American and British critical establishment, mainly because his movies made tonnes of money, and earned high praise from the hoi polloi, and therefore could not be considered high art!

Besides the astonishingly brilliant debut, The 400 Blows (1959), the French director Francois Truffaut's greatest contribution to cinema could well be that he worked doggedly, tirelessly, despite sneers and sniggers from snooty folk, to mine the incredibly artistic, intellectual side of Hitchcock, building a case for the commercial filmmaker as a top auteur, through his writings as film critic with Cashiers du Cinema.

But more so with the seminal, scholarly work, Hitchcock By Truffaut, which was a series of in-depth interviews, held over years, with Hitchcock — academically breaking down his filmography. A lot of the global film-geekery around suspense-thrillers, in particular, owes its legitimacy to Truffaut's Hitchcock. In that sense, I strongly suspect, Raghavan's latest film, Andhadhun, which releases in theatres this Friday, will turn out to be his most warmly received. Admittedly inspired by Coen Brothers' Fargo, both the film and the TV series, Andhadhun is more specifically based on Olivier Treiner's 13-minute, French short, The Piano Tuner (2010).

Ayushmann Khurana sharply plays a blind musician at a piano bar in the film. It's easy to tell, Khurana has totally turned around his career, in terms of script selection to start with (Dum Lagake Haisha, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan), since Hawaizaada (2015), his dumbest dud ever. The good thing about being blind, Khurana's character says, is it helps him focus on music better, since eyes are a strong source of every distraction.

For lack of a better word, this fellow is also an eyewitness in a murder case, concerning a '70s Bollywood star. The relatively forgotten Anil Dhawan, best known for films like Chetna, Piya Ka Ghar, back in the '70s, plays this has-been hero, in what's got to be the casting of the year! Tabu plays this ageing star's trophy wife. You only have to watch her simultaneously display calm and frayed nerves, with a dead body and a blind pianist in her house, to realise how that scene alone should be a masterclass in film performance. She also has a lover — a stud cop, physically modelled on the late Bombay officer, Himanshu Roy.

Okay, I gotta go easy on spoilers. Suffice it to know that there's a twist and turn, over twists and turns, in this suspense-thriller, while, for the most part, as an audience, you find yourself giggling at the incredible madness of it all. The 'reveals' in the plot just never stop. And at least once (if not twice), you wish to cover your face anticipating yet another blind turn!

But, as with other Raghavan films, the pleasure doesn't simply lie in the plot, but quite often the motifs ('70s Bollywood music), individual shots (finger of the dead body jutting out of a suitcase that it's packed into), and sequences (the staircase chase definitely stands out). I actually can't remember seeing a movie with that many scenes in it. The downer, quite often, is that Raghavan's films, more often than not, suffer from that terrible curse of the second half. Well, the phenomenally clever Andhadhun does too — thoda sa. Much, much more faintly, than, say his debut Ek Hasina Thi, which in my head still ranks as the greatest 'first half' of a film, ever!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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