By M Kanishka Narang (Bangalore, Karnataka, India)
Andhadhun, by director Sriram Raghavan is a quirky story about a blind piano player Akash (Ayushman Khurana) who is training himself for a competition in London. He befriends Sofie (Radhika Apte) who runs a restaurant and becomes her resident musician. As Amit Trivedi songs fill the air, Akash and Sophie allow their feelings to expand. His melodious pieces impress Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan), a 70’s star of Bollywood, who invites him home to surprise his wife Simi (Tabu) on their wedding anniversary. But when Akash turns up at his home, things are not what they seem to be. It is now that the story takes a dramatic turn.
The sequence of events that unfold after Akash’s first visit to Simi’s home are well crafted and neatly presented. The background score is reminiscent of 70’s music in Bollywood. Anil Dhawan is an actor-turned real estate trader who is very fond of his wife. He is generous and naive and willing to go to great lengths to please her. He is the embodiment of self-obsessed movie stars with floppy hair and a virginal view of the world.
The tone of Andhadhun is wacky and wicked, the pace as hectic as a late train trying to make up lost time and the characters amoral in a businesslike way as they lay claim to money that doesn’t belong to them. Crimes for money, lust and power are carried out smoothly and effortlessly. The end always seems to justify the means.
Raghavan succeeds in holding the audience’s attention with a strong plot. Good performances by Khurana and Tabu also help. There are funny moments in the cinema too. One cannot help but feel sorry for Akash as he tries to wriggle out of tough situations that are not his doing. For the most part, the movie is crisp and does not bore you.
Ayushman Khurana gets under the skin of Akash’s character and gives you little reason to doubt his ability as an actor. If playing a visually challenged artist were not tough enough, he succeeds in feigning blindness. Tabu is outstanding too. Cold, calculative and surgical, she is even willing to kill to hide her misdeeds. Radhika Apte has improved considerably from her past, as in Raghavan’s previous films, minor characters are beautifully deployed to spring major surprises. Chhaya Kadam is hilarious as a wannabe criminal way out of her league. Zakir Hussain, a regular actor in Raghavan’s films, ensures that his character is always human, no matter how outrageous his deeds. Ashwini Kalsekar, another Raghavan regular, is a scream as the wife of burly police officer Manohar (Manav Vij).
Andhadhun is easily the first real Pune noir, proving that dastardly behaviour can nestle among the city’s well-appointed older houses and newer complexes. Raghavan’s talent for imagining ordinary people as proficient criminals in the right conditions and his use of locations and sharply etched characters to advance his plot is put to great use in Andhadhun.
At a current run time of 139 minutes, Andhadhun slides into place as smoothly as one of Akash’s piano pieces.