Murder In The Mansion:
All you know about the protagonist of Honey Trehan’s debut film Raat Akeli Hai is that he is a dark-skinned cop, rejected by potential brides because rang saaf nahin. You don’t know if he is a good cop, or an honest one, but he will turn into a hero by the end of the film (like Hathiram Chaudhary of Paatal Lok).
Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) lives in Kanpur with his cranky mother (a delightful Ila Arun), slightly resentful that her spelling error—‘l’ instead of ‘n’– ruined his name, that he could have been a normal Jatin instead of a ‘difficult’ Jatil. Their bickering is the only comic relief the grim movie offers. She thinks he looks like Ajay Devgan, he allows himself a tiny smile in the mirror that hides the fairness cream she regularly places there.
A wealthy man, Raghubeer Singh (Khalid Tyabji), is found murdered on his wedding night; it is his second marriage, his first wife was killed in the film’s opening sequence. The new wife, Radha (Radhika Apte) was his mistress, sold to him by her father.
Like in a classic Agatha Christie whodunit (or the recent Hollywood film Knives Out), there are plenty of family members around in the large and gloomy haveli, and almost all have a motive for killing the patriarch. Jatil is outwardly calm, but it is clear that he is thrilled with the opportunity to do a proper “jaanch” (investigation). Everyone in the mansion would like to pin it in on Radha, reclaim the property that is now hers, and throw her out. Jatil is not convinced, even when it emerges that she was having a clandestine affair with the dead man’s nephew Vikram (Nishant Dahiya). Rather inconveniently, for him, he falls for Radha, much to the annoyance of his deputy Nandu (Shreedhar Dubey), who would rather wrap up the case and go home to his new wife.
In spite of his obviously corrupt boss’s (Tigmanshu Dhulia) admonishments and the involvement of a crooked politician Munna Raja (Aditya Srivastava), Jatil is keen on digging out the truth.
The film moves at a leisurely pace, building mood and suspense and a sexual frisson between Jatil and Radha, it also sags in the middle, but wraps up satisfactorily in the end.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is always watchable, and he works his magic even around mundane scenes, like the one where he throws a tantrum when he is served noodles instead of fried rice.
Trehan is a casting director, so the actors even in two-scene parts fit their roles; the technical team delivers with finesse—the cinematography, production design, costumes, all come together to deliver an enjoyable, if linear and conventional, murder mystery. It’s hard to say if Raat Akeli Hai would have worked in the multiplex, but released on a streaming platform, it does not make the home viewer reach for the remote, to pause for a coffee break. And that’s saying a lot.