Ludo begins with a dialogue by Anurag Basu (playing a mythical figure) that goes “If you arrive before time, there is no one to appreciate you”, if he was taking a dig at the response to Jagga Jasoos then point well taken. Ludo is as chaotic as its namesake game could sometimes be. Yet, Basu ensures that the focus on the players and their tokens is not lost till all tokens are home.
Early in the movie there is a scene where a dead body falls halfway through a roof, the naked lower half dangling in front of a lead character. The reaction on the character’s face is the reaction that the movie invokes from the audience. It is all sorts of crazy, absurd, and funny in a dark way. The world that Anurag Basu creates is outlandish, its inhabitants eccentric and to enjoy it requires a greater degree of suspension of disbelief.
For a filmmaker obsessed with the visual styling, the Ludo board offers enough scope to play with the color pallets. The board is quickly set without wasting time. Abhishek Bachhan as ex-gangster Bittu is Red with his ex-wife, her current husband a little girl as the tokens. Aloo (Raj Kumar Rao) , Pinky (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Mithunda’s spirit make up Green. Blue has the wild cards Rahul (Rohit Saraf) and Sheeja (Pearle Maaney). Akash (Aditya Roy Kapoor) and Shruti (Sanya Malhotra) are yellow. Pankaj Tripathi is the special token that moves erratically across the board, entering and exiting any yard and square at will.
Rajkumar Rao plays the member of Hopeless One-side Lover’s Association (HOLA) that one can find in the many small towns of India. The ones who build Taj Mahal in memory of their true love while leading existences oblivious to that ‘love’. The ones who tattoo the name of the girl they only admire from a distance and finally end up manning the dessert counter at her wedding reception. Aloo is that lover of Pinky who knows he is being played but plays along for her happiness. The chemistry between the pair is interesting and few moments are just visual delights like Aloo breaking into a disco dancer step with the camera behing him while Pinky goes away. Sadness is seldom portrayed in such a weirdly effective way on screen. The problem with the Green storyline is that its tokens spend a lot of time in the yard and hence forgotten for long stretches.
The Red storyline starts out with Abhishek Bachhan in Lallan Singh from Yuva mode. What happens when Lallan gets out of prison after 6 years and finds the Rani Mukherjee character who has remarried? Probably the same thing that happens to Bittu in this movie. He is brooding and angry till he meets a little girl faking her kidnapping. He then moves into the gentle and funny Bunty aur Babli territory, with the little girl playing the dominant partner in crime.
Aditya Roy Kapoor plays a voice artist who dabbles in ventriloquism in the Yellow end. Sanya Malhotra as Shruti brings the balance in the acting department as a wannabe gold-digger. Their storyline involving the aftermaths of a sex video surfacing on the dark corners of the internet is one of the better conceived portions of the anthology. Pankaj Tripathi’s meeting with Aditya Roy Kapoor is one of the funniest scenes of the movie. Notice how the camera shakes in this scene while the sex tape plays on the mobile phone.
Surprisingly, the best storyline is the Blue storyline with lesser known faces. Rahul(Rohit) a down on luck salesman and Sheeja(Pearle) the fresh out of Kerala backwaters nurse make unlikely companions thrown into a roller coaster ride. They do not speak each other’s language, yet they forge a bond that sees them through all the crazy situations the screenplay throws at them.
Pankaj Tripathi as Sattu Bhaiya enters all their yards through all kind of criminal acts -B&E (breaking and entering), kidnapping, escaping from cops and murder. His don with nine lives act is without doubt the best performance of the movie .It is the glue that holds the story lines together while physically looking like a tattered ludo board in desperate need of restoration (or release) through most of the movie. His connection with the cursing and caring nurse tames his eagerness for another tryst with death .
There is a quirky Inspector Closseau (from the Pink Panther series) inspired inept cop who ends up landing right in the middle of all these stories but who looks like he would rather be back at the station playing a game of ludo with his constables. There is a minor face-off scene between him and Abhishek’s character that brings to mind the many Mukri-Amitabh face offs from the 70’s.
Ludo is the product of the OTT platform releasing Anurag’s mind from the restraints of a box office. Freed of it, he goes wild in his world building and at times gets a little too carried away by it. The movie has many flashes of brilliance (the way the individual stories hit the ground running, Pankaj Tripathy in every scene, Rajkumar’s parody of the 90’s lover boy) but the whole never becomes greater than its parts. Ludo also bites off more screen time than it can chew. At 30 minutes shorter it could have become a Wes Anderson meets Woody Allen meets Guy Ritchie classic. Given its current run time it hangs between middling and good, tilting closer to the good. Wacky, but good.
Captive of the 24 frames and admirer of the written word. If it is not on the silver screen or on the pages of a paperback, it might as well not exist.