Murder mysteries can never go out of fashion and some of the finest Indian, Hollywood and world cinema has something to do with murder. Last week, we saw casting director Mukesh Chhabra turning director for the love saga DIL BECHARA. This week, it’s the turn of another casting director, Honey Trehan, to don the director’s hat. For his debut, he chooses an intriguing murder mystery, RAAT AKELI HAI. So does RAAT AKELI HAI manage to entertain and thrill viewers? Or does it fail? Let’s analyse.
RAAT AKELI HAI is the story of a cop investigating a complicated murder case. Inspector Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) from Belghat, Kanpur gets a call one night informing him of a murder in his jurisdiction. The murder turns out to be that of the wealthy Thakur Raghubeer Singh (Khalid Tyabji). Incidentally, it is the day of Raghubeer’s second marriage, with Radha (Radhika Apte), who was his mistress earlier. Raghubeer’s first wife Kavita Singh (Natasha Rastogi) had died five years ago in a hit-and-run case that remained unsolved. Raghubeer’s nephew Vikram Singh (Nishant Dahiya) informs that he last spoke to Raghubeer at 11:30 pm. Radha meanwhile doesn’t give a proper reply, which raises the suspicion of Jatil and his colleague Nandu (Shreedhar Dubey). Though the other family members – son Karan (Nitesh Tiwari), daughter Karuna (Shweta Tripathi Sharma), son-in-law Ravi Sisodiya (Gyanendra Tripathi), niece Vasudha (Shivani Raghuvanshi), sister-in-law Pramila Singh (Padmavati Rao) and the maid Chunni (Riya Shukla), too, behave suspiciously, Jatil can’t help but wonder if Radha is connected with the murder. At the same time, he gets intrigued by her and even gets attracted to her. Radha, meanwhile, is despised by other family members and one day she is about to get assaulted at the hands of Karan when Jatil stops the latter by slapping him. This infuriates Ravi and he complains to the local MLA Munna Raja (Aditya Srivastava) who was also Raghubeer Singh’s close friend. Munna finds Jatil’s investigation method unfair and he complains to Jatil’s senior, SSP Lalji Shukla (Tigmanshu Dhulia). Soon, Jatil realizes that Munna Raja is also connected, not just with Raghubeer’s murder but also with the murder of Raghubeer’s first wife. What happens next forms the rest of the film.
Smita Singh’s story is promising and it also gives one a déjà vu of last year’s Hollywood flick KNIVES OUT. However, it’ll be wrong to conclude that RAAT AKELI HAI is a copy as it was made way before. But the resemblance is uncanny in not just the murder mystery bit but even the house setting! Smita Singh’s screenplay is a major spoilsport. The script ideally should have been watertight and tense. Instead, it’s needlessly dragging at several places as the investigation goes around in circles for most parts of the film. Also, the film is quite lengthy with a run time of 2.29 hours. Smita Singh’s dialogues are okay.
Honey Trehan’s direction is average. Technically, he gets the film right and makes good use of the location, setting and even extracts fine performances from his actors. But on the flipside, he takes a lot of time to get to the point as the narrative just needlessly wanders from here to there. A few developments are also very unconvincing. When a murder of this sort takes place, the investigating cop should have ideally grilled each and every person present in the mansion. Instead, Jatil focuses chiefly on Radha and Vikram Singh. In one scene, he does hint that his junior has investigated but it’s never shown. It’s only in the second half that Jatil finally investigates Karuna and others. The kind of question he asks her is something he should have asked on the night of the murder itself! There are many more silly instances in the film. Jatil gets hold of a nursing home report in the later part of the film. A dedicated cop like him should have ideally checked its contents immediately. Instead, he forgets about it and is reminded a few days later when he’s waiting for his train at the railway station! As a result of such moments, the film fails to engage.
RAAT AKELI HAI begins on a very horrifying and thrilling note and sets the mood. The introduction of Jatil Yadav’s character and his relationship with his mother (Ila Arun) is funny. The initial scenes of the murder mystery are quite engaging. But in no time, the interest begins to drop. A few scenes do impress and catch attention like Jatil reaching the tannery, Karuna’s investigation and the action chase sequence, but at the rest of times, the film just drags. The last 20 minutes is when the mystery is solved. It’s unpredictable but thanks to the slow pace and long length, the desired impact is not made.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is in his element as always. It’s interesting how he tries to add something new in each and every performance and RAAT AKELI HAI is no exception. Radhika Apte leaves a huge mark and plays the role of the mysterious and troubled woman earnestly. Nishant Dahiya is a bit polished but it works for his character. Shreedhar Dubey is okay initially but gets better in the second half. Ila Arun is hilarious and also quite touching. Shweta Tripathi Sharma doesn’t get much scope initially. She, however, makes her presence felt in the second half. Gyanendra Tripathi is a bit over-the-top, as per the requirements of his part. Shivani Raghuvanshi is quite good especially in the later part of the film. Padmavati Rao is decent. Aditya Srivastava is okay but his character ideally should have oozed fear. Tigmanshu Dhulia is wasted. Khalid Tyabji is hardly there. Same goes for Nitesh Tiwari. In fact, his character is nothing to do in the film and is added just for the heck of it. Ravi Bhushan (henchmen) is quite scary and is well-casted for the part. Swanand Kirkire (Ramesh Chauhan) does well in the cameo. Riya Shukla is an actor to watch out for. Baljinder Kaur (Chunni’s grandmother) is superb in a small role. Natasha Rastogi and Vijay Kumar Dogra (driver Ramdeen) get no scope.
Sneha Khanwalkar’s music is forgettable. All three songs – ‘Jaago’, ‘Ghoom Charkhaya’ and ‘Aadhe Aadhe Se’ don’t have a shelf life. ‘Ghoom Charkhaya’ however does impress a bit due to Sukhwinder Singh’s singing. Karan Kulkarni’s background score is subtle and has the mystery feel. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is terrific and captures the many moods and moments of the film beautifully. Shruti Kapoor’s costumes are straight out of life. Rita Ghosh, Vinay Narkar, Niyoti Upadhye’s production design is realistic. Harpal Singh Pali’s action is impressive. A Sreekar Prasad’s editing is very bad and the film ideally should have been 30-40 minutes shorter.
On the whole, RAAT AKELI HAI is a slow, lengthy and flawed murder mystery. The only saving grace are the performances and the climax.