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cinema

Raat Akeli Hai

As The Swivel Chair Spins #12

Fridays are better than most days. 

Particularly the ones that come with detective movies. 

Raat Akeli Hai is indeed an evocative title, more so for Bollywood buffs of the Dev Anand song, but it hardly captures the movie that follows it. We could push a little more and say it’s a romantic title, much like Inspector Jatil Yadav- who’s secret gaze of women contradicts his lofty expectations from his future wife. “Decent” & “good looking” is what he tells his mother, how difficult would that be to find? 

Later on a lonely night, somewhere in the Gangetic plain,as Jatil bhai sits down to have his reheated dinner, a gruesome muder is reported. 

A large mansion. A dead old patriarch and suspects reaching to the double digits. It’s a classic Christie setting. 

Wait! A short detour into what catapults the best Christie adaptations into classic status, hmm, it’s only five things that we really need.

  1. There’s the idiosyncratic detective (mostly accented) 
  2. There’s the avengers type collection of the best of acting talent and all of them  colorful suspects 

(Maybe you can look up the list from Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express) 

  1. Of course, who could forget multiple motives
  2. Easy deception or more deaths 
  3. Finally, climatic exposition of what happened, preferably in the drawing room. 

Netflix’s Raat Akeli Hai has all of the above! Typing this makes us very happy, to see writing that loves genre elements like we do. 

But that’s not all, if it’s classic Christie in part, writer Smitha Singh seems to have been bitten by the Chinatown bug and weaves in Radha (Radhika Apte), a shifty femme fatale and layers of social commentary. 

Hmm, mostly it works well, no one can fault Nawaz as he limps through the small lanes in the search of clues and solve the murder of Raghubeer Singh. Nawaz believably goes from frustrated to sufficiently self confident. 

Where Raat Akeli Hai loses the plot, is in its inability to differentiate the suspects, this is important in a classic Christie setting because the tension is wholly sustained on who the killer is? 

Could it be him? Could it be her? Could it be them? Or could it be one of those unbelievable sleight of hands that Christie does and stumps her reader, just for sakes. 

All of this tension comes from us knowing the characters, glimpses of their lives, their worries and motives from the interviews that the detective would take and frame the narrative. Here, after a point (the third act), it didn’t really matter who the killer really was and our characters are just names painted behind foldable film shooting chairs. 

For the viewer tired of Christie’s Mysteries, there are lots of other things to look at, like the elaborately designed rooms in Thakur saab’s mansion, mirrors and Pankaj Kumar’s effective cinematography.

Yes, but it’s hard to watch this film  and not think about Knives Out.

Raat Akeli Hai is now streaming on Netflix.

Categories
cinema TV

Extraction

As The Swivel Chair Spins #7

Minutes after the is-it-all-really one take action sequence; Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) and Ovi Mahajan (Rudraksh Jaiswal) decide to take shelter in an office room of a warehouse, the grey walls are lit in the sodium vapour shades emanating from the factory- this could be any office from the developing part of the world, yet to differentiate it and place it well within the sub continent was a pink water dispenser. Someone on set did a good job to keep it in, knowing our preference for color in these mundane objects. 

It was these things I was looking for, not really following the story, because from the get go this is a mission film. Hero gets into a mission, has a target and obstacles pile, have seen many of those before. The only differentiator was that the movie was shot in India. I have always held that India could be one of the best locations for action movies. I was also among those who were disappointed when there was news going about that Skyfall would start in Mumbai with Bond running in line with the local trains and that didn’t happen. 

For some reason or the others, previous depictions of India like in Octopussy were of an imagined nature and less involvement of Indian technicians or it would be to the other end of the realistic scale. Slumdog to an extent was a departure, it was showing the India I was familiar with but its intentions were different from those of action films. Slumdog Millionaire was trying too hard to smudge its Hollywood roots. 

What I wanted was an action thriller in the Hollywood mould set in Indian cities, like how Paris is used in Ronin or how London was used in MI:Fallout, a destination! Even the middle east. Yes, there have been attempts, including Ghost Protocol which were set in India and not shot here (so yeah).  Maybe I was asking for too much. 

But then Extraction changed all that. Maybe it’s the lockdown, but no really it is my love for live locations. Ok coming back to the Indo-Hollywood look, here cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (among his credits include the recent Bohemian Rhapsody and cult favourite Drive) kicks up a dust storm, the dust and smoke that rises from the ground merges with the yellow-orange of the sun and this is just the opening drone shot. It’s the cinematography and the production that would leave many a lesson for our future filming crews. 

Yet,I wish there was more chaos, there is a through the curving lanes car chase but it is brief. Our daily street congestion & chaos adds to the effect of the action film itself, for example there is a tight hand to hand combat fight in a street between Chris Hemsworth and Randeep Hooda, only to be momentarily separated by a two wheeler. 

The one shot action sequence that proceeds from one apartment floor to the other and ultimately to the ground, reminded me of an enjoyable sequence in Saaho and the rooftop chase brought back Kamal doing parkour in Mylapore in Vikram (1986). 

So yeah I hope, you would have got what I meant by now, but this Extraction is not as fun as either of them.

This Netflix product is otherwise pretty basic and the only thing that could come as a shock is how Hemsworth rash driving is shocking even to the Indian kid. 

Extraction is now streaming on Netflix.  India and Thailand were used as the filming locations to portray Bangladesh in the film.

Categories
cinema cinema:english

Murder Mystery

As the swivel chair spins #4

There is something sinister in naming a murder mystery film as ‘Murder Mystery’, especially when it comes produced by Netflix. Like most digital businesses, Netflix would be keen to get the search engine optimization right.

James Vanderbilt, who wrote Zodiac, also wrote this new murder mystery comedy (pause for reflection) headlined by Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston; maybe it was too close to the deadline and he couldn’t think about a title for his movie.

Great, I have spent two paragraphs- one slyly on the search engine benefits of generic movie titles and second on how someone who wrote the dense and detailed Zodiac couldn’t come up with titles.

On further introspection, while writing paragraph three, I realized that the joke was on me; this was meant to be a generic murder mystery movie made to cushion the want of those who craved more of the recently released Murder on the Orient Express.

Hmm, but Murder on the Orient Express too is a generic title, at least it has the specificity of the location.

So I come back home from work on a Friday and slump into a chair (the swivel) and think- “it’s the perfect time to watch a murder mystery”; the sentient sensors on Netflix pick this up and before I know it, I am watching the new Adam Sandler movie.

Something happens and we are told that Adam Sandler is a beat cop who wants to be a detective but he cannot pass the test and his wife Jennifer Aniston- a hairdresser is frustrated that she cannot have her Europe trip as planned.

While the movie never tries to be convincing about the genre it takes up- just throw in the elements like multicultural cast-a big billionaire-European cruise setting and the somewhat comical piling of bodies, hoping it works. But the most unconvincing part is about the leads playing broke middle class Americans on a Euro trip. (The movie goes by the tagline: First class problems. Second class detectives- tiring already)

Oh, but I must say Dany Boon excels as Inspector Laurent Delacroix, wish there was more of the O-ring smoking French officer, but there is very little for anyone to do- Terrence Stamp turns in for just one scene

Pastiche is done lovingly, parody takes it over to the top. This one neither has the love for the genre or the silliness that would evoke multiple viewings- this is just generic (like the title).