“Acharan Sahi, dekhne mein theek thaak (good character, decent looks),” is all that the eligible bachelor Yadavji (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) wants from his prospective wife. This is not a big demand, after all, he tells his mother (the gorgeous Ila Arun). Sima Aunty (Indian Matchmaking) is who Yadavji should be introduced to is what I think in my head since both these characters are neighbors on Netflix.
While Sima Aunty is for Jisshu real, of course, Inspector Yadav is Jatil (being his first name, meaning complex, sounding a bit like Jatayu). He was born Jatin, the name got changed on the birth certificate. In the same way that HRF Keating’s Inspector Ghote should’ve ideally been Ghose – a role that Naseeruddin Shah played in The Perfect Murder (1988), with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Stellan Skarsgård.
These stray references are important for you to know where this film is coming from, in order to ascertain where (audience-wise) it should be going. Basically it starts off with the ‘feels’ of a desi Knives Out (2019).
A dead body (of an old zamindar) lies waiting in the bedroom. People living inside the mansion move about rather normally. No ambulance or crowds insight. A cop, call him Detective Yadav, in the western sense, enters the crime scene to calmly suss out the situation, and all the characters surrounding him at one go. It’s a Shaadi ka Ghar, as they say.
Earlier in the evening, Yadavji was at a wedding. Will classify this as fine detailing, given Indians usually wed en masse on a date chosen by stars in the sky. There was noise because of the whole town in the wedding mode. And like with the cloud, if you know what I mean, somebody apparently took faayda (advantage) of this mauka (situation) and shot the man of the house dead.
From this point onwards (first minute or so), since the stage is set, you have the option to carry on or move on – since you’re watching the film online. Although a lot of the script (by Smita Singh) plays out indoors, there are some classic night/train shots that a proper theatre would have done better service to.
That said, we have seen a couple of the themes touched upon in this film in desi, dark TV thrillers lately – the fact of cop Yadavji going rogue at some point (Jaideep Ahlawat in Paatal Lok), or the decadence of an old zamindar/nawab type (Jayant Kripalani in Aarya). But make no mistake, this is a murder mystery, rather than a suspense thriller (say Andhadhun, Kahaani variety), strictly speaking.
It’s Honey Trehan’s directorial debut. Doesn’t look like a film by a first-timer at all. Trehan is a veteran casting director. Much like Mukesh Chhabra, who made his debut as a director with Dil Bechara only last week (on Disney+Hotstar). Is there a trend of sorts here? Not any more than filmmakers Tigmanshu Dhulia (on Bandit Queen) and Anurag Kashyap (on Satya), having started out as casting directors. You’d presume they’d be decent at directing/instructing actors on set, since they do this for a living during auditions, much before a film rolls, anyway.
And, boy, are the performances to die for, from the casting itself – right from the newbie Nishant Dahiya, to Nawaz, of course. Dhulia steps out in the role he knows best – and unscrupulous ass plus badass of a desi guy from northern badlands (in this case, playing a UP senior cop).
The mahaul of this movie is actually what drew me to it – infinitely more than the twists and turns in the murder case itself, with the needle of suspicion alternately pointing between a series of relatives inside a mansion, where you can barely tell one from the other. The house belongs to a local baahubali, as it were.
The neighboring one calls himself Munna Raja (Aditya Shrivastav), an independent MLA. And that’s the thing, if you’ve known these parts of India – there’s a frickin’ raja every few kilometers. What goes behind this landlocked, landlord-Havelis, packed with entitled mards, muted women, and family secrets, is what this movie, about a night, authentically shines a light on.
Do you care so much for who’s the killer/killed? I didn’t. What’s at stake here, and I’m sorry, what should be your skin in the game? Unsure. Must also have you know, I’m not the greatest connoisseur of crime-fiction (starting from Scandinavian to Scarlet Pimpernel). A masterpiece in any genre is up for crossover though. Would this? Ah, found it just about appreciable, and I guess that’s all I was aiming for anyway.