‘Raat Akeli Hai‘, the newly released multi-star cast Netflix Original, directed by Honey Trehan and produced by RSVP Movies, has successfully portrayed a whodunit where audiences are captivated the end (keeping in mind the length of the movie being about 150 minutes). It’s a classic thriller around the murder of the patriarch of a rich landowning family in Uttar Pradesh on his wedding day.
The entire family is put under the radar of the suspect. The dialogues, written by Smita Singh (also known from Sacred Games), have extensively contributed to sustaining the thrill and making the movie much more than a criminal investigation. The movie runs a commentary on political patriarchy and its consequence of abuse and exploitation. The ‘victim,’ Raghubeer Singh (played by Khalid Tyabji), was murdered on the day of his marriage to a young bride Radha (played by Radhika Apte), who was also his mistress. As might be expected, Radha became the chief suspect in the course of the investigation.
The chief investigator of the case, Jatil Yadav (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), is the protagonist of the movie who is determined to ensure justice to the ‘victim,’ and has also been portrayed as ‘the saviour.’ Bollywood has, for a long time, suffered from ‘saviour complex,’ and this is an essential conversation that needs to be initiated in reference to the portrayal of abuse and exploitation in popular culture.
Jatil Yadav has been portrayed as a layered character, who on the one hand in his personal life upholds his notion of ‘how an ideal woman aka his wife should be,’ and on the other, the stances and approaches embraced by him in the course of the case to ensure the protection of recently widowed bride Radha, illustrates the duality of the character.
However, it is important to understand his act of engaging in ‘impartial investigation is nothing but part of the duty,’ as correctly addressed by Radha in the course of her conversation with him.
His sense of objectivity during the investigation was not only determined by his impression of being an ‘imaandar police officer’ but also his increasing love interest in Radha. Jatil was helping Radha to flee and trying to kiss her, where the consent was denied and he crossed the professional line in his attempt to establish a sense of right over Radha. The portrayal of Jatil as a flawed protagonist but open towards working on himself runs a commentary on addressing unconscious biases.
Coming back to the mystery, while continuing the current investigation, Jatil comes across another missing link of the death of Raghubeer’s wife, five years back. The local minister, Munna Raja (played by Aditya Srivastava), trying to bury both the cases demonstrates India’s route to justice has to pass by power, hierarchy, and exploitation enabled by the state machinery, in this case, SSP Lalji Shukla (played by Tigmanshu Dhulia).
The movie highlights the close networking between the police and the political leaders in accomplishing corrupt practices. Through his investigation, Jatil discovered Raghubeer was killed by his niece, Vasudha (played by Shivani Raghubanshi), who, in turn, was the survivor of child sexual abuse by her uncle. To bury the words around this horrific act of abuse, Raghubeer’s wife was silenced by Munna Raja.
Though the movie tried to portray violence against women in upper-caste powerful families and the reality of trafficking, it became more of a narrative of vengeance. The recent releases like Bulbbul or Raat Akeli Hai can also be understood as the narratives of glorifying vengeance and employing sexual abuse as the plot device. Though it is trying to strike a conversation around the incompetence of the legal system, it lacks illustration from women.
It rather reduces it to a satisfactory vengeance story from the male gaze. Despite plying child-sexual abuse primarily to the narrative, we do not hear Vasudha’s story in her voice. The revealing sequence appears to be more of a ‘moment’ for a saviour’s hero’ police officer than understanding and listening to the survivor.
The movie successfully portrays how elderly women in upper-caste families are complicit in maintaining heteropatriarchy. Vasudha’s mother, despite knowing dreadful injustice being done to her daughter, remained silent and rather was only interested in ensuring inheritance rights for her son. She not only attempted to suppress her daughter’s experience but also exerted control over other female members of the family. The movie remains successful in holding viewers’ interest because of the exceptional acting by the entire cast.