Nawazuddin wins the web again, with a perfect murder mystery

Latha Srinivasan | Updated on August 07, 2020 Published on August 07, 2020

Throw shade: In Raat Akeli Hai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a cop whose personal and professional lives merge as he works on a murder case

Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui and first-time director Honey Trehan on their new Netflix thriller that’s left viewers glued to their seats

* Raat Akeli Hai, which premiered on July 31, is a murder mystery, but touches upon social issues as well

* Siddiqui plays the dark-skinned cop Jatil Yadav who is frequently turned down by prospective brides and secretively uses a fairness cream

The setting could have been plucked out of an Agatha Christie book: A sprawling estate, a murdered patriarch, layers of intrigue — and an honest detective. The dark whodunnit Raat Akeli Hai on Netflix features a fine ensemble cast along with the lead actors — Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a misfit UP cop and Radhika Apte, the victim’s young bride.

The film is a runaway success going by all the social media acclaim and its lead actors as well as director Honey Trehan are being feted by critics and audiences alike. BLink caught up with Siddiqui and Trehan and found them in an expansive mood — happy to talk about the film in a video call from their respective homes in Mumbai.

Having played numerous bad guys, good guys and cops, how did Siddiqui find the role of Jatil Yadav?

“There is no person who’s completely good or bad — it’s only in our films that we find people who are either totally good or totally bad,” he replies. “But I find roles with grey shades more interesting and challenging because you tap into your inner self and also share your own life experiences. Then your character becomes more interesting,” he says.

As an actor, while Siddiqui (46) brings his talent and fine craft to the table, he tries to ensure that he doesn’t carry any preconceived notions about his character when he starts a new film. “I take inputs from the director and it’s my responsibility to take his vision forward in the film. I don’t want to get into the wrong track nor into my comfort zone of playing a particular role. Even if I have to bring in realism, it has to be the realism of the character — not Nawaz’s realism, because that is comfortable,” says Siddiqui, who has worked in Kahaani, The Lunchbox and other successful films and web series such as Sacred Games.

The new film, which premiered on July 31, is a murder mystery, but touches upon social issues as well. Yadav, for instance, is dark-skinned — the reason why he is often turned down by prospective brides. The cop secretively uses a so-called fairness cream every day — a covert action that large sections of the audience could at once identify with.

“What is good about director Honey Trehan is that he adds some personal experiences of the actor into the character. What happens then is there’s a connect with the character you’re playing and it becomes easier to understand the complexity. It’s like the director gives the actor a signature line and says, now go ahead and play with it,” Siddiqui explains.

Trehan (42) has meanwhile ambled into the conversation. Why Siddiqui, you ask him. The first-time director, who had a successful career as a casting director, laughs and retorts: “Why not Nawaz?” He elaborates that he was not keen on a heroic or macho personality for Yadav, as the audience would then associate such a persona with a winner.

“I was looking for a normal person who lives in a particular mohalla and who is a different person when he’s a cop and a different person when he is with his mother. He has issues in his professional life and personal life and eventually the two get mixed. I was looking for a person who comes from that background and Nawaz comes from UP. There are certain nuances which have been taken from his life for the film.”

Siddiqui, indeed, is from the badlands of western Uttar Pradesh. The actor, who grew up in a small town called Budhana, has gone through his fair share of struggle in the film industry in his remarkable life story.

And that begs the question: Given the burning debate about nepotism and outsiders in Hindi films, how easy — or difficult — is it for someone with no foothold in the industry to be successful in Bollywood today?

“I don’t look at this as an outsider versus insider issue as I’ve come here to work. The Mumbai film industry is my place of work and talent must be respected irrespective of whether the person is an insider or outsider,” Siddiqui replies. “If we don’t respect talent, then art will break down... We must respect our art, culture and tradition because that is where our talent comes from.”

Inspiration, however, knows no borders. Trehan, for one, is a “huge fan” of Alfred Hitchcock. “Even the name of my company is MacGuffin Pictures,” he says. MacGuffin is a plot device — a seemingly insignificant detail that is actually important — popularised by the American director of thrillers.

“I always like stories which have a ‘thriller element’ in them. I am sure if a love story is given to me, I’ll add a thriller element to that, too,” says Trehan, who was drawn to the Raat Akeli Hai screenplay, written by Smita Singh (who also scripted Sacred Games), because of its complex characters.

He likes developing characters that audiences can relate to. “I like things which are not linear, where you have more interpersonal relationships, where the characters have layers and you can slowly unfold the layers to the audience. That’s what excites me.”

With the thunderous reception Raat Akeli Hai has received, it looks like Trehan and Siddiqui have struck gold.

Meanwhile, Siddiqui is busy — watching films, that is. The actor, whose future films include Hrithik Roshan’s Krrish 4 and Shahid Kapoor’s Farzi, reveals that the lockdown has been a learning experience for him as he has been catching up on the cinema that he missed because of work.

“I had a crash course in performances,” Siddiqui says with a smile.

Latha Srinivasan is a Chennai-based journalist

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Published on August 07, 2020
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