Olivier Treiner’s L’accordeur (French for The Piano Tuner) is a short film depicting a struggling pianist who elicits empathy from his audience by pretending to be a blind artist. That’s until he walks into a murder scene during one of his client visits. The short story is particularly impressive for it’s usage of the ‘Inciting incident’ and ‘snowball effect’ to crisply entwine the protagonist in a life or death situation and finally ending with a cliff-hanger. Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun takes duly credited inspiration from this premise and weaves a tale of murder, deceit and a decent sprinkling of comedy in the year’s most fun movie.
There will only be a handful of movies which you wouldn’t want to end, where you cannot even predict if you have seen the final scene as the twists come in rapid succession and leaves the audience bewildered at the goings on. Andhadhun is that movie. What L’accordeur could not explore, is captured with real honesty by Raghavan here. He uses the ‘inciting incident’ (here, the crime scene) and develops a movie which is a character study of grey men and women who get into a quandary as a result of their choices. Much like Raghavan’s previous movies, ‘Badlapur’ & ‘Johnny Gaddar’, ‘Andhadhun’ is a series of blunders committed by the characters and the repercussions of each on their lives and the ones related to them. And that’s where the movie is addictive till the last scene. There is no easy way out for anyone and the quagmire of misdoings catches up to every character eventually.
Ayushmann Khurrana as the pianist Akash gets to play his most challenging character till date, while Tabu is the ‘Lady Macbeth’ of the story who plays victim and perpetrator with finesse. They first meet at Tabu’s house where the entire ‘snowball effect’ gathers momentum. Those five minutes feel like a crime ballad of interplaying characters with heightened tension, even as Amit Trivedi’s piano theme creates eerie atmospherics. Not much is spoken during that sequence, but as an audience you are almost tangled into the mess yourself. That is where the brilliance of Raghavan is to be admired. He not only creates a blind character but gives his perspective to the audience, through camera positions and close ups. The discomfort of a person who gets interlaced in crime and cannot see to save his life is captured with the dexterity only a seasoned Director can. Ayushmann delivers every nuance in playing a differentially abled person and complements it with the careful presentation of someone who is faking disability. Being a musician himself, his command over the piano comes naturally and I cannot think of anyone else who could have done justice to the character as he has.
Oh, I seem to have missed the most important part of the narrative, the dark comedy. The story could easily have taken inspiration from the source material and remained only a bland whodunit, but for Raghavan’s storytelling. He puts the ‘Fun’ in the almost defunct genre of Gallows Humour. I fail to recall many Gallows Humour movies coming out of Bollywood. Closest being Dev D, Ishqiya and the recent Kaalaakandi. Andhadhun works because it is a smooth sailing with twists you will not see coming. There will be scenes where you will languidly munch on your popcorn, while the very next moment you will drop a few.
The movie is bolstered by a stellar supporting cast who will remain with you even after the movie is over. Radhika Apte plays the besotted girl who admires the talent of our protagonist. This is a supporting role for her as she is not central to the story and is mostly missing during key moments. Anil Dhawan’s cameo is delightful and he transports the viewers to his glory days of Chetna and Piya Ka Ghar in the 60s. Manav Vij as Inspector Mahendra is both menacing and unintentionally funny.
But the movie belongs to Sriram Raghavan. His narrative does not allow even a single minute of drag and the audience wants to return to their seats as soon as possible from the carefully selected intermission. Raghavan is known to take time between movies, but if the last two are any indication, he is peaking at the right time and we cannot wait to see what he has to offer next.