The opening scene of ‘Andhadhun’ (means blindly motivated to be violent, rash in English) features a villager taking aim of a rabbit which is eating away cauliflower in his farm and turns out to be the climax of the film. Yes, this is the major event in Andhadhun before it ends. Excited eh?
Having said that, it has a few shortcomings but overall it's a super effort to revive the forgotten thrillers of 70s and 80s.
This post is aimed to give a review of ,’Andhadhun’ but also talk at length about the genre it represents.
The Crime stories and 'upanyas' culture of 70s and 80s India:
Most Indians born in the 70's and 80's remember the names of Surendra Mohan Pathak and James Hadley Chase (Hindi translations) whose 'upanyas' aka pocket books (Hindi for novels) of fictional thrillers ruled the hearts of the youth and the older generation alike. Pathak alone has sold more than 100 million copies of his 300 odd novels across generations. A love affair gone wrong, the scheming wife, a corrupt cop, the unfaithful husband, a group of nobodies chasing a bundle of cash, a character doing all things to cover his/her crime are all examples of plots in most of these novels. These stories would be based in small towns, sleepy hamlets and occasionally a big city. The writers used to focus solely on the characters in their stories and won't pay much attention to optics, the bigger picture etc. The population then wasn't hooked to digital, TV content and reading these intimate stories would be the time killer of millions of youth at that time in India.In many ways, the readers will be emotionally invested in the central characters.
In Parallel, Bollywood was also evolving in storytelling with rise of the crime capers in the 1970's/80's. Films like "Log Kya Kahenge" , "Chetna"... the films of BR Ishara would make a mark in this field. Conniving women, Unpredictable characters and memorable music would represent this genre.
"Andhadhun" is a tribute to the golden age of Bollywood thrillers as it embodies everything these movies offered to keep its viewer intact.
"Andhadhun" tells the story of Akash (played by Ayushmann Khurana), a next door boy who is presumably blind and makes his living by playing piano in a quiet area of Pune. He pretends to be blind because he loves the attention and affection of people around him. He bumps into Sofie who owns a well known restaurant and offers him to work there as a pianist and gets interested in him instantly.
In parallel, yesteryear actor Pramod Sinha (played by Anil Dhawan) lives with his much younger wife Simi (played by Tabu) in the same area. Pramod and Simi are together but Simi doesn't mind being married to him as he is rich. As the movie progresses the paths of all the central characters cross each other and dramatic twists and turns ensue. The blind character sees his biggest horror come true and he encounters ridiculously wicked people who will sell body parts for a few bucks.
And at the end there is something to cheer for.....
The Genius of Sriram Raghavan
Sriram is possibly India's only director who lives in his own time bubble where he nurtures his mad love for the crime stories of the 70's and 80's. His works include "Ek Haseena Thi" which features a woman taking revenge from a conniving former lover, "Johnny Gaddar" which features a group of people who are pursuing a stash of money, "Badlapur" which narrates the relationship between a widower and his wife's killer over the years. In many ways, Sriram transports its viewers in his story completely. "Andhadhun" has Raghavan's stamp all over. He takes cues from the character development styles of Brian De Palma, Hitchcock and builds a world from an "Upanyas" of Surendra Mohan Pathak. The only difference is that Akash (played by Ayushman Khurana) becomes an unexpected voyeur of crime and in many ways is also a viewer of the story.
As the director, Sriram successfully changes the driver of the story in minutes. Sometimes, you will feel Akash is holding all the cards, then it shifts to Simi, then to the Autowala and so on....... To add to his authenticity, he has recruited Anil Dhawan as Pramod Sinha. Dhawan who is relatively unknown as of today lived and portrayed the leading man in the 70's and 80's in Bollywood films. His presence brings a sense of familiarity to the viewer to the world they are being pulled into.
The storyteller in Sriram Raghavan clearly doesn't have a very rosy view of the society at large. The risk which the crime thrillers run is that due to its dark overtone kills the interest of the every day movie goer. What Sriram has successfully done is to make every character in the film as largely unpredictable...
Using Characters as Pawns
Sriram Raghavan uses Pawns across the story who will hold your attention and change the direction in which you are walking. Eg. The scene in which Akash meets ACP Manohar (Manav Vij) again at the police station. Another successful pawn in the film is Dr Swami (Zakir Khan) who has a "principled" view on organ smuggling. Ashwini Kalsekar as Rasika, the nagging wife of ACP Manohar adds charm to the story telling. Similarly, Chhaya Kadam as Sakku, the local street vendor and lottery seller is a delight to watch The strategy here is to give characters unique situations as a platform of sorts to be introduced to the viewers. I feel almost all characters have their peak moments in the film and that is the hallmark of a great story teller.
The Storytelling of "Andhadhun"
Andhadhun doesn't play out to be a whodunnit. Instead it has no suspense. The viewers know exactly who the killer is from the word go. In fact there is nothing hidden in the film. So much so, that the crime story becomes comedy with viewers laughing away at various scenes. In some ways, the film is quite interactive and with a weak protagonist at the centre makes the viewer emotionally invested in the story and its characters. To put it succinctly, it morphs from a who done it? to a what will happen next?
"Andhandhun" is a great film not because it has good actors, it is made great by regular actors giving virtuoso performances. In fact, Ayushmann and Tabu are known actors but they are not exactly box office gold from any angle. Its what the director and writer has enabled them to do is inspiring. This is possibly Ayushmann's best role till date. He plays a brooding, weak, confused and scared leading man which he does splendidly well. In some ways, Raghavan took this character from Jimmy Stewart's character in Rear Window who stares at the whole world . Tabu as Simi is at the centre of conflict and storytelling of this film. She will do anything to benefit her. Scene by scene you will realise the depth of her character who has multiple shades. She might seem less nasty at times but doesn't blink an eyelid before thinking anything sinister. Radhika Apte as Sofia is a bit of a waste as she doesn't get into the action and is largely a bystander in the central issue.
The supporting cast of Zakir Khan, Ashwini Kalsekar, Chhaya Kadam, Manav Vij do a superb job and they all have their 'peak moment' in the film.
Andhadhun is the best thriller to come out of Bollywood this year and is up there in the company of Hollywood greats when it comes to storytelling. You are missing something if you are not watching this film asap!