It's like Agatha Christie walked into Roman Polanski's Chinatown conversing in Vishal Bhardwaj with a smattering of Brian De Palma for razzle-dazzle -- the upshot is mesmeric, raves Sukanya Verma.
The darkness of night, skin and soul are a source of sin, secrets and self-doubt in Raat Akeli Hai' marriage of suspense and serendipity.
It's an odd mix, but there's merit to it in how things pan out for the solver of a mystery as significantly as the mystery itself.
Casting director Honey Trehan's first offering behind the camera showcases a flair for mood and layers. As someone known for picking the right actor for a role, he applies a similar sense of relevancy to Smita Singh's tale of emancipation in the body of intrigue.
What is fascinating is how this mingling of genres doesn't eat in another's share but wilfully reinvent the landscape of whodunits as we know it.
It's like Agatha Christie walked into Roman Polanski's Chinatown conversing in Vishal Bhardwaj with a smattering of Brian De Palma for razzle-dazzle -- the upshot is mesmeric.
(Sacred Games) Singh's lovingly penned script's depth and impact comes alive in Pankaj Kumar's compelling photography.
Before we discover the deceit of a mystery, we must submit to the illusion of it.
And Raat Akeli Hai builds towards a beautiful prelude wherein headlights of two vehicles against a sinister background and objective address the menace the night is about to unleash against a tease of a light, controlling what we see and what we don't.
Pankaj Kumar plays this game so well -- holding back what he knows and tricking us into thinking what he wants in his shrewd, smart view.
As able Karan Kulkarni's background score is, it is far too obvious in its knowledge to credit its viewer's intelligence or at least humour it.
The sound of celebration and sin collide in the tradition of De Palma's Blow Up to enable a murder most foul.
A salacious old man distinguished by his enormous wealth and extended family has died on his wedding night.
So a skillful cop is called in to investigate his excessively wild or unusually calm brood of sons and daughters, sisters and sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews and daamads and dead wives (a fine if perhaps underused ensemble of actors like Shweta Tripathi, Padmavati Rao, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Aditya Shrivastav, Swanand Kirkire and Nishant Dahiya).
Among the many red herrings and suspicious faces he encounters in a house teeming in closets full of skeletons and ugly patriarchy, there is Radha (Radhika Apte), all too familiar and hitting a raw nerve.
Five years ago, they met on a train. He thought he had rescued her. Five years later, he must rescue her again. The events of five years ago form a crucial link to the breakthrough.
If Singh's deluge of quipping quotes ('Shaher ke chor chapate sab mar gaye hain ke saale police wale peetenge ek doosre ko') fuel the action, the high-handed politics of Kanpur's underbelly points to the risks.
Like a potent visual of a butcher pulling up a floppy poster to reveal his political clout with hands smeared in blood of his recently slaughtered victim.
For all its sheen and atmosphere, Raat Akeli Hai isn't a slave to technique.
Its allure lies not in cop Jatil Yadav's findings as much as Jatil Yadav himself.
Through the murder trail, Trehan profiles a man whose name (Jatil means difficult) is as curious as his manners. He doesn't have Poirot's prim air or propriety but sports a moustache, a discipline as well as a Hastings like subordinate.
And the recurring motif of train in Jatil's context fits nicely around what Poirot believed, 'Life is like a train, Mademoiselle. It goes on. And it is a good thing that that is so. Because the train gets to its journey's end at last.'
Past the similarities, Jatil's idiosyncrasies and insecurity over his complexion surface in his tendency to stare at any mirror he comes across.
The same overripe for marriage narrative of Photograph and Motichoor Chakhnachoor colours the banter around his nagging mother (Ila Arun is such a treasure).
For the world he is an upright, sharp-tongued cop who'll even bully his boss (Tigmanshu Dhulia is pitch perfect as the superior you can take liberties with) if need be but at home he is just another 'Mummy!'-squealing man child.
His desire for a 'decent' bride coincides with his proximity around a woman challenging those very chauvinistic notions he holds dear.
Radhika Apte is good at dispensing ambiguity and keeps him (and us) guessing over her true nature. Alternating between femme fatale and wounded muse, their chemistry blossoms over secrets, some that rile him up, some that evoke sympathy.
By giving the police procedural a sleuthing quality, Nawaz gets to display his whimsy. Turning it into an unexpected romance highlights his fragility.
At little above two-and-a-half hours, the slow-burn becomes stretchy, the riddles start to convolute and the bombshells lose their edge.
Raat Akeli Hai loses some of its steam as a result, but the payoff was never in the big reveal anyway. It lies in the promise of another day -- a brand new one.
Raat Akeli Hai streams on Netflix.