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Movie review: Andhadhun - an intelligent and gripping thriller
Right at the beginning of Andhadhun, a voice says, "Kahaani lambi hai. Coffee?" The invitation, as it turns out, might be directed at the audience as well as a character in the movie, even though that particular conversation features towards the end. The key word in both instances may be 'kahaani' meaning 'story', because, sometimes, it's not just the director who tells a story.

Helmed by Shriram Raghavan whose oeuvre includes movies like Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddhar, Agent Vinod and the gritty BadlapurAndhadhun is a devilishly clever film that engages the viewer from beginning to end. The plot revolves around Akash, a blind pianist who happens to 'witness' a murder but it turns out that he is not really blind.  What follows is a gripping cat and mouse game between the killers and Akash, the former trying to cover up the crime and the latter trying to escape their clutches. Things heat up when in a bizarre turn of events, Akash actually loses his vision.

Ayushman Khurana delivers a solid performance as Akash, a man trapped in circumstances partly of his own making, desperately trying to extricate himself from a dangerous situation. Tabu excels as Simi Sinha, the scheming wife of a yesteryear actor, with shades of Lady Macbeth and Jezebel. She is a borderline psycho, whose ruthlessness complements her amorality. There are many grey areas in the movie. Why does Akash pretend to be blind? Is it just to focus on his music or to win fame and sympathy? How much of the story he tells is true? The open ending leads to more speculation. Does Akash recover his sight?  How does he manage to end up in Europe? And what really happens to Simi?  What is the significance of the one-eyed rabbit, the deus ex machina, which saves Akash's life in the nick of time?

Very rarely do we get to see Indian movies – especially thrillers – that make us exercise our grey cells. An unreliable narrator complicates matters further. "What is life? It depends on the liver," muses one of the characters, a doctor who murders people for their organs, in a clever pun on the word that means both the bodily organ as well as the one who lives. By the same token, the movie might mean many things, depending on the perspective of the viewer.

The rabbit often appears as a trickster figure in literature as in the Brer Rabbit tales which entered North America via Africa, thanks to the Negro slaves.  Brer Rabbit always manages to overcome adversity and outwit his foes but he also has an amoral nature. In African and African-American culture, the animal trickster, whether rabbit or monkey, embodies an extreme type of behaviour that is required to survive in extreme circumstances. For example, the kind of circumstances that Akash confronts.  It reminds one of the Tar Baby story, where Brer Rabbit finds himself stuck to the tar doll created by Brer Fox to trap him. Would an amoral character like Akash really be willing to forgive and forget the wrongs that have been done to him by his tormentor?  Would he actually take the moral high ground and plead with the doctor to spare her life?  

It is also significant that Akash has a cat for a pet. Cats are not exactly known for their morals. We often compare crafty people to cats which behave as though nobody will see them if they drink milk with their eyes closed.  Besides, of all the parts of the human anatomy, it is the eye which is associated with the idea of revenge, as in the saying, 'an eye for an eye'.  So, if Akash recovers his sight in the end, whose eyes – or rather, corneas – are they really?  This is the tricky question that the movie leaves unanswered. The viewer, however, is free to answer it according to his or her moral predilections. If you are the moral type, you would prefer to think that he was rewarded for his good intentions. But if you are amoral, you might choose to believe that he accepted the doctor's offer. And if you are like the character played by Radhika Apte, you might be willing to turn a blind eye – pardon the pun – to certain things, depending on the circumstances, like most people, perhaps.

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