Raat Akeli hai by first time director Honey Trehan is as much a hard-hitting social commentary on the rampant male chauvinism as it as crafty whodunit, probably more of the former. As the movie progressed, one gets more engrossed in the life and backstory of the suspects, rather than the crime itself. This could be partially because it is established early on that the patriarch who was killed was no saint.
Speaking of Patriarchy, from the very start the movie follows the typical male gaze. It begins with a crime against woman and as the film progresses, it evaluates a whole gamut of ‘crimes’ (either in the legal or ethical sense) that the women are subjected to. Even the lead character looks at women through the ‘culture’ lens. Women are straightjacketed as the ‘sanskari achhi bhali (goody two shoes)’ or the ‘abla naari (hapless female) who needs protection’.
To the writer’s credit, the women in the movie turn out to be neither of the above. They are complex like the protagonist’s name. They are also sometimes, completely opposite to the stereotypes. Case in point, Ila Arun, who is a masterstroke in casting. She carries around a photo of her son and is on the lookout for a bride. But that is as ‘middle cases mother’ as she gets. Her views are more progressive then her son. It is a role reversal of sorts when you watch their interactions. The liberal lines are mouthed by her while Nawaz gauges the girls by the Indian Matrimonial Ads barometer.
The casting director in Honey Trehan is in great form here. The actors dissolve into the characters and are inseparable. Shweta Tripathi, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Aditya Srivastava and Tigmanshu Dhulia give their best performances. Especially Aditya Srivastava who I feel has not got the credit due to an actor of his calibre. With performances like Black Friday, Paanch, Gulaal , Satya and the recent Super 30 he is easily one of the very good performers around. There are a lot of characters in the haveli and it is easy to lose track of everyone, but the writing ensures it does not happen.
While the majority of happenings occur in and around the mansion, the key events are reserved for train journeys. 3 to be specific like the 3-act structure. The setup, confrontation and resolution to the protagonists’ love story happens on the train. It is a love story as well.
Nawazuddin’s Jatil is true to his name. He is honest to his job, even a borderline sleuth but suffers from the aftermaths of the misogyny dipped, macho flavoured, culture bites that every man in this country is used to. The mistress turned wife of the victim is either ‘characterless’ or ‘damsel in distress’ to his eyes. He does not even think her worthy of being a suspect. As he works on the case, one is reminded of the detectives from Chinatown and Manorama Six Feet Under, who were again working through the social labyrinth while solving the cases.
A particularly intriguing character is the butcher. In any other movie he would just be limited to the man Friday carrying out the dirty deeds for his masters. This butcher lives through minor burns, scratches from a victim, being thrown out of train and even shootout by police. Only to meet his end by being lit, the way evil is in our myths. He is the manifestation of evil and represents the deep seeped patriarchy in the country that refuses to die an easy death.
Jatil’s journey in finding the ‘culprit’ is outward and inward at the same time. His reactions to the gender biased jokes and taunts of his colleague change over the duration of the film. The end of the movie is not in the answer to the whodunit but where it lands Jatil, making it more of a social commentary. The silence of women, the plight of the lower strata of the society, the obsession with fairness creams all form layers of the social commentary.