“Andhadhun” - Sriram Raghavan (2018)

Andhadhun (English: “Blind Melody”, 2018) is an award-winning Indian crime thriller that has achieved immense popularity both at home and abroad [1,2,3].  The story, which is something of a multiply-linked whodunit, concerns a blind piano player who finds himself suspected of knowing too much about an unsolved murder.  As the story unfolds, the plot becomes progressively more complicated with a succession of threats and lies, and this has led some people (but not me) to view the film as a black comedy. 

Director-writer Sriram Raghavan was inspired to fashion this account after seeing Olivier Treiner’s 14-minute French film L'Accordeur (The Piano Tuner, 2010).  However, Raghavan and fellow script writers Sriram Raghavan, Hemanth M Rao, Pooja Ladha Surti, Arijit Biswas, and Yogesh Chandekar considerably expanded on Treiner’s work.  What they came up with was a noirish tale in which almost everyone we see is engaged in misrepresenting themselves and doublecrossing their temporary partners in order to further his or her selfish aims.  Everyone turns out to be a fake, and so the resulting multiple confusions concerning real identity are what doubtlessly lie at the base of this film’s popularity.

The narrative of Andhadhun unfolds over roughly six parts, but I will give you only a partial description of what happens so that you can go through the discovery process, yourself.

1.  Akash, the Pianist
Akash (played by Ayushmann Khurrana), the protagonist of the film, is an accomplished young pianist who is apparently blind.  Because the film’s focalization is almost exclusively on Akash, the viewer sees things going on around Akash that he, himself, may not be aware of.  But relatively early on we learn that Akash is not really blind – he fakes his blindness by using obscuring contact lenses in order to enhance his hearing and thereby improve his piano-playing skills.  However, noone else knows that Akash is not really blind.  When he goes out on the street, he wears dark sunglasses and uses a blindman’s cane to tap his way around. 

One day out on the street, Akash is knocked over by a girl, Sophie (Radhika Apte [4]), driving her motor scooter.  Sophie sympathetically helps the evidently blind Akash to his feet, and soon they become friends, and then lovers.  Sophie gets Akash a gig as a piano player at her father’s café, and there his playing attracts the admiration of retired actor Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan), who invites Akash to come to his home and play the piano for his upcoming wedding anniversary.

2.  An Unwitting Witness
Akash comes to the Sinha’s home on the appointed date, and the door is answered by Pramod’s wife Simi (Tabu [5]).  Simi sees that Akash is blind and lets him in to start playing the piano as a warmup for the anniversary party.  She tells him that her husband is not home yet.  But Akash sees that Pramod has just been brutally murdered and that the dead man’s bloodied corpse is still lying on the floor.  He also sees Simi’s apparent lover, the brutish-looking Manohar (Manav Vij).  But Akash is forced to remain silent and pretend he hasn’t seen anything.

Akash quickly goes to the police to report what he has seen.  But at the police station he notices that Manohar is a police officer, so he is again forced to withdraw from taking any action.  Later Akash happens to see Simi murdering her suspicious neighbour by pushing the elderly woman out of her upper-floor window.  Again Akash is the unwitting witness to foul play, and again he feels compelled to remain silent.

3.  Efforts to Eliminate the Witness
Despite Akash’s silence, Simi and Manohar are suspicious about the supposedly blind Akash, and Simi visits his apartment to test him.  After some staged interactions, Simi eventually discovers that Akash is not blind and threatens to kill him.  Akash pleads for his life and promises to remain silent and disappear from India.  But Simi has already given him a drug that  in a few minutes makes him now truly blind.
 
Manohar, though, is not satisfied with leaving Akash alive, even if blind, and comes to kill him.  Despite his blindness, Akash manages to knock Manohar out and escape, but running out on the street, Akash crashes into a telephone pole and is himself knocked out.

4.  New Adversaries
When Akash wakes up, he finds himself in what he believes to be a hospital bed.  But he soon discovers that his unconscious body on the street had been discovered by a corrupt rickshaw driver, Murli (Pawan Singh), who had taken him to an organ harvesting clinic.  The clinic’s director, Dr. Swami (Zakir Hussain), intends to kill Akash and sell his organs for a profit.

So now, halfway through the film, Akash’s situation seems hopelessly dire.  He is facing two ruthless groups – (1) Simi and Manohar and (2) Dr. Swami and his two assistants – which are both out to kill him.  And now Akash really is blind.  But there are a lot more complicated machinations to come, and I will leave it to you to find out what happens when you watch the film.

Though I won’t go over the details of the remaining two parts of the film, I think it is still appropriate to remind the reader that the people in the two ruthless groups out to kill Akash are all unconscionably self-absorbed and exclusively out for their own material gain.  Therefore they are all in competition with each and liable to become mutual enemies.  This is what can make things complicated, and you will not be surprised that there are more deaths in the offing.

And remember that all these people are telling lies.  In this respect, the viewer should also keep in mind that even the at-first seemingly innocent Akash is also an inveterate liar.  This is a significant issue, because at the film’s outset there are indications that this whole tale is a narrative told by Akash (there are voiceover passages early on reflecting Akash’s reflections).  Thus the viewer may be justified in questioning whether certain events presented in the film are accurate representations of what is supposed to have actually happened.

In particular there is a climactic sequence of events near the end of the story that, to the careful viewer, seem to be told in two conflicting versions.  The sequence of events at issue concerns a scene showing Dr. Swami driving, with Akash seated next to him in the front seat, down a country road.  One of the versions of this scene is presented as part of the normal, top-level narrative of the film.  And the other, slightly different, version is presented as a flashback reflection on the part of Akash that he shares with Sophie when she runs into him in Europe two years later.  Since both versions are told by Akash (remember the whole film is supposedly narrated by Akash), at least one of these versions of this late sequence must be a lie.  How to resolve this question, and indeed how to come to a clear understanding of the ending of Andhadhun, has been a matter of considerable discussion among people who have seen the film.  You can check out some of these speculations by looking at a few of the discussions on the Internet discussion site Quora [6,7]. 

But no matter what conclusions you might come to about that  matter concerning the film’s conclusion, your overall appreciation of Andhadhun will probably depend on the degree to which you enjoy all the plot twists and playing all the guessing games that keep coming up.  From my perspective, those things don’t quite add up to a successful viewing experience.  Although actors Tabu and Ayushmann Khurrana have a certain degree of screen magnetism, they do not portray characters here with whom the viewer is likely to feel sympathy or even fascination, especially as the story progresses.  Indeed, all the significant characters other than Sophie are contemptible and ruthless narcissists, and so we are not drawn into empathizing with their thoughts and motivations.  But successful  narratives are usually those in which the reader or viewer is moved to empathize with one or more of the characters.  That is not the case in Andhadhun.  The only sympathetic character in this story is Sophie, and although she has potential, she is here basically only an observer who has minimal impact on the other characters and what ultimately happens.

Thus for these reasons, Andhadhun is of some interest, but it does not really reach the top level.
½

Notes:
  1. Priyanka Roy, “Andhadhun: Thrilling and intelligent whodunit”, The Telegraph, (6 October 2018).   
  2. Renuka Vyavahare, “Andhadhun Movie Review”, Times of India, (17 October 2018).    
  3. Raja Sen, “Andhadhun movie review: A terrific game of blind man’s bluff. 5 stars”, “Hindustan Times”, (5 October 2018).   
  4. Radhika Apte also starred in “Chokher Bali”, a part of Stories by Rabindranath Tagore, Episodes 1, 2, & 3, directed by Anurag Basu (2015).   
  5. Tabu, whose real name is Tabassum Fatima Hashmi, is very well-known and has appeared in the following films that I have reviewed: The Namesake (2006), Haider (2014), and Drishyam (2015).
  6. “How do you explain the ending of the Andhadhun movie of Ayushmann Khurrana?”, Quora, (n.d.).      
  7. “How did Ayushman Khurana got back his eyes or was he never blind in the movie - Andhadhun?”, Quora, (n.d.).     

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