Andhadhun : Sriram Raghavan Does A Hitchock, Or Is It A Coen ?

Of the four movies made by Sriram Raghvan until Andhadhun, Johnny Gaddar defines his sensibilites as a filmmaker the most I’d say. The man obviously has an obsession with Bollywood thrillers and music from the 70s and makes conscious effort to use it as a motif in every movie of his, not much unlike Tarantino’s thing for B movies from Italy and Hong Kong. Though his debut as a director was in the Ram Gopal Varma stable with Ek Haseena Thi, it was indeed with Johnny Gaddar that Sriram Raghavan truly came into his own. Everything about the movie was alien to Bollywood at the time it was released. Sriram Raghavan had quietly slipped in neo-noir into the Bollywood portfolio. He has the most outlandish choice of lead actors too interestingly. Saif Ali Khan broke new ground with Ek Haseena Thi, Neil Nitin Mukesh had a gritty debut in Johnny Gaddar, Varun Dhawan dropped his Govinda-born-again desi boy act for the first time, briefly though and asked the audience to take him seriously as an actor in Badlapur and now Ayushmann Khuranna has gone and done the same, explore new territory as an actor, I mean. The twist in Sriram Raghavan films starts right with the casting I guess.

Andhadhun is Sriram Raghavan in top form and he makes your time in the dark hall worth every second of it. The premise was initially Hitchcockian with a dash of Billy Wilder thrown in. More noirish than neo- noir, the proceedings on screen early on invoked memories of classics from Vertigo to Double Indemnity to The Big Sleep. Sriram Raghavan is a man born in the wrong age of cinema I could’nt but help feel and that’s when I noticed a thematic homage to the Coen Brothers brand of filmmaking, a cinematic wormhole between ages I’d say. Like in life and in the Coens’ world, most notably the one in Fargo, in Andhadhun too ordinary people have their lives turned topsy turvy by extraordinary acts of crime in the heat of a moment. Quirky criminal characters are around here too. Sriram Raghavan’s greatest success in Andadhun is that he has managed to imbue a genuine element of humor throughout the film without compromising on any elements of suspense in this taut thriller. It’s that humor factor which might make this film more endearing to the viewers in stark contrast to the gritty thriller that Badlapur was.

Any discussion about Andhadhun would be incomplete without an elaboration about the two individuals who carry this film almost entirely on their shoulders, a measured Ayushmann Khuranna and a terrific Tabu at her wicked best, the Ruk Ruk girl almost but with a deadly twist. She pulls off the difficult role effortlessy and when I tell you that you can’t hate her even in her meanest moments on screen, you could accuse me of being a biased fan boy but trust me, once you get to watch her you’d agree too. You can tell she’s having fun with the role too. Anil Dhawan relives his brief glory days in a role that’s almost him playing himself. Radhika Apte is her brilliant self again and no she’s not frowning, entirely. Zakir Hussain is a Sriram Raghavan regular and transforms into character like always. Another Sriram Raghavan favorite Aswini Kalsekar makes her mark in a brief yet fiesty role. Manav Vij was a new face to me. From the guy who played the autodriver and Chaya Kadam who played Maushi to the kid next door, no character, however short their screen time, is without reason in a Sriram Raghavan film. Everything counts and nothing is what it seems to be, so don’t blink when you’re watching Andhadhun.Kidding.Am I? Find out for yourself.

Ghoul S01 | Netflix : Z meets The Exorcist In A Familiar Landscape.

Ghoul lured me in with it’s trailer. Hot on the heels of Sacred Games, here was an Indian Original that looked interesting and featured a prominent cast member from that other rage of the season Anurag Kashyap – Vikramaditya Motwane production too. Though the series speaks Hindi it is set in a more or less unnamed land – except for a brief historical reference by one of the characters-  and looks nothing like anything that we have come across on Indian screens, the fact that Sacred Games had set the bars high notwithstanding. Adding to the intrigue off-screen is the presence of a non-Hindi speaking writer-director, Patrick Graham at the helm. Maybe that explains the kind of tone and mood that’s alien to shows and films from our part of the world. Ghoul is pitched as a superatural horror series and it is scary, but not because of the horror element.

Costa Gavras’s Z  is as political a movie could get and The Exorcist set the mould in which every other horror movie since has been made. Ghoul has elements of both the classics and their genres in a delicious mix. It presents a dystopia which is not about a dusty, windy, rundown future or a world where machines have taken over, neither is it one where humans have moved to Mars, rather Ghoul leads us into a very real place where the government has taken control of lives and any voice of criticsim and dissent is in danger of being clamped down ferociously. Patrick Graham was researching torture in modern warfare when he hit up on the idea he claims. Now, that must give you an idea. Ghoul even reminded me of The Silence Of The Lambs not necessarily because it had a female officer walking down a dark corridor with prisoners in cells on either side. Radhika Apte seems to be doing at home what Priyanka Chopra is trying away. Manav Kaul transforms into an army officer who’s eons apart from other characters he has recently portrated with ease.One actor to watch out for.

Anurag Kashyap’s first two films never saw the daylight thanks to run-ins with the regulatory authorities, namely CBFC and it later turned into a regular excercise for almost all his productions. So when a giant like Netflix streamed its way onto Indian screens with the kind of creative liberties it bestowed upon talented individuals with whom they joined hands like Kashyap, who has been working the system from within for decades us as an audience were definitely the ones to benefit most. If Kashyap flexed his muscles with Sacred Games, he has gone for the sucker punch with Ghoul. It’s not the demon that’s the scariest in this miniseries, it’s the people in it and the system they represent that leaves you disturbed. If you thought Sacred Games was perfectly timed, Ghoul would leave Rahul Dravid drooling. The release eerily coincided with the crackdown on activists across the country . Kashyap and Co have almost done a Nostradamus I’d say.

Sacred Games : S01 | Netflix

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, Shantaram by Greogory David Roberts and Maximum City by Suketu Mehta are three books which were published few years apart at the dawn of the millenium and all three of them have a common central character, that being Mumbai. Mehta and Chandra coincidentally had collabroated on Mission Kashmir too. Apart from Sacred Games, the rest could safely be called non-fiction with Shantaram treading a thin line between fiction and reality. But then any story about Mumbai is a genre in itself, magical realism meeting Mario Puzo, if I may. Shantaram was the one book that I looked forward to being made into a movie and if I am not wrong Mira Nair was supposed to do one with Johnny Depp in the lead. That never took off I guess. Sacred Games to be honest was a difficult read, in terms of the sheer number of pages it ran into and was a slow burner  but it had all the makings of a potential gangster drama, in the hands of the right filmmaker. Ram Gopal Varma was fresh on the heels of his take on the Mumbai gang land with Satya and Company and looked  the perfect candidate in those days, now not so much. So it was only natural that one of his early collaborators who went on to make a distinct name for himself in India and globally, Anurag Kashyap turned out to be the one who brought Vikram Chandra’s magnus opus-as it would be touted now- to life on the screen finally, and how. It’s also a landmark in terms of the fact that it’s the first Indian Netflix Original.The book was a critical success, commercial not so much back then and given the hype and rave reviews  Season One has generated thanks to Kashyap and Co. , I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a revived interest in the book itself and offer some consoloation to the author towards the cause of the unrecouped original million dollar advance by Harper Collins.

Ganesh Gationde, the surreal character who is a hero, a villain and a victim simultaneoulsy needed a Nawazuddin Siddiqui to be elevated to greatness as one of the most memorable characters ever written.Back when I read Sacred Games, Gaitonde did not have a face. Now, I cannot imagine anyone else but Nawazuddin as Gaitonde. It’s his destiny as an artist, I can’t but help feel. Consider this, it took Vikram Chandra around ten years to write the book.He travelled to Bihar and attended Bollywood parties as part of the writing process.The book was released in 2006. Nawazuddin Siddiqui made one of his early screen appearances in a minor role in Anurag Kashyap’s unreleased Black Friday in 2004. Little did Siddiqui or Chandra know that their creative talents would come together and were fated to take on Netflix by storm decades later.This will go down as Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s greatest role ever and the man scorches the screen every second he’s on it.When he is not on, his voice over holds sway over the audience. Sartaj Singh, a cop, the other central character in Sacred Games interestingly had made an appearance in Vikram Chandra’s earlier novel, Love and Longing in Bombay, I am told. Saif Ali Khan brings Sartaj Singh to life here and delivers a performance that is a testimony to the fact that Bollywood is a jungle where even the most talented artists could get lost for eternity. Anurag Kashyap has rescued Khan here from that jungle, so to speak, who has shown in the past that in the right hands, he could give the best in the business a run for their money. He plays Sartaj Singh with such depth and sensitivity that he has transformed himself completely into the character. Even his silences tell the audience stories here. Most notable is the scene where he meets constable Katekar’s wife. Katekar played brilliantly by Jitendra Joshi is an endearing character and is Sartaj’s sidekick, as the genre would have it. Radhika Apte is a no-nonsense intelligence officer who is far removed from the female cop characters we have come across on Indian screens. Luke Kenny, a familiar face on Channel V of yore is seen as an assassin here. Jatin Sarna makes  an impression as Bunty, Gaitonde’s man. Rajshri Deshpande plays a different kind of gangster’s wife here, quite unlike anything that we have seen on Indian screens before. Kubra Sait is Kukoo the primary love interest in Gaitonde’s life, a character already being talked about in the media. Every other actor from Neeraj Kabi to Shalini Vatsa to Geetanjali Thapa lingers in your psyche as the characters they play. Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap have co- directed the series with Motwane working on the Sartaj timeframe of the story and Kashyap on the Gaitonde origins. The decision was right on the money given the fact that the urban landscape is where Motwane’s stories have flourished till now in contrast to the hinterlands that we are now familar with in Kashyap’s films.

Sacred Games is a case of art-imitating-life-imitating-art.The timing of the show could not have been more perfect, considering the central theme it deals with and the times we live in. In the Mumbai of Chandra, Kashyap and Motwane, the good guys are not that good and the bad are not exactly evil. The city decides the fate of the individual.Delhi, the power centre is no match for Mumbai, it’s a different world altogether, a character reiterates that in a line he speaks. Sacred Games explores the underbelly of Mumbai where agents of politics, businesses, movies and religion are indulged in a constant process of evolution in a struggle for power and control. Gaitonde is almost Forrest Gump here with major incidents that shook the nation in the past couple of decades proving turning points in his life as a career gangster. Even someone as dreaded as Gaitonde is a pawn in the hands of the people in power, politically. Motwane and Kashyap have successfully brought in an element of suspense and maintains it without losing their grip on the aesthetics of the tales being told. The series is particulary critical about the past governments who were in power when incidents which changed the country forever occurred. Sacred Games is what happens when an irresistible force in the entertainment industry like Netflix meets a filmmaker with immovable vision and outlook. Kashyap and Co. have come out all guns blazing here and have delivered a world class piece of entertainment. Looking forward to the next season and I think I’m going to revisit the book again.