Radhika Apte returns to Netflix with Honey Trehan’s Raat Akeli Hai

Radhika Apte and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, along with debutant director Honey Trehan, discuss the film’s commentary on patriarchy and how Bollywood handles mental health issues
Radhika Apte in Raat Akeli Hain
Radhika Apte in Raat Akeli Hain

Our cinema theatres are notorious for their lack of quiet, and while this makes them tremendous spaces of revelry during screenings of mass cinema, genre-loyal films like the upcoming Raat Akeli Hai, a whodunit that focusses a lot on mood and atmosphere, often suffer. For this reason, I was glad to have caught an advance screening of this film on television. Radhika Apte, who plays a murder suspect and a victim of patriarchy in the film, agrees. “This audience noise is a definite problem in our theatres for sure,” she says. “I always watch films in theatres in a country like England. At interval, our theatres also play that music, you know, and I never understand why.”

Radhika, whose identity has now become inextricably linked with Netflix, rolls her eyes when I point out the good-natured memes about her association with the OTT platform. “Personally, I want to admit that yes, I share a great relationship with Netflix. Thank god for OTT, right?” she asks. “They have levelled the field for films. Big films often hog the theatres leaving small films scrambling for the remaining screens. But here, in OTT platforms, your visibility is dependent on the quality of your work.”

<em>Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Raat Akeli Hai</em>
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Raat Akeli Hai

And it is relentless quality that Honey Trehan pursues with Raat Akeli Hai, inspired by the very many whodunits he grew up savouring. “I love Vijay Anand films and Agatha Christie novels. Hitchcock is a favourite too. In recent times, I loved Fincher’s Gone Girl. I guess I have always been fond of the thriller genre, and with Raat Akeli Hai, we have made a noir film. That’s why you see a lot of darkness. The colour black allows for fascinating visual experiments — like you can mix it up with elements like rain and fire to some great visual results,” he says.

The colour black also gets explored through another lens in this film. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a chauvinistic male cop investigating this case, a cop who, among other problems, has to deal with confidence issues stemming partly from the darkness of his appearance. Nawaz says the character is resemblant of his real persona. “I too grew up applying these fairness creams, expecting miraculous results. In fact, I remember that, once, I didn’t even realise that the cream I was using wasn’t Fair and Lovely, but some fake one called Fare and Lovely. I spent a lot of time trying to make my skin fairer,” he admits. Naturally, Nawaz found the going quite hard in Bollywood. “In mainstream Bollywood cinema, is there any really black-looking actor, male or female? I had an inferiority complex at first. But I guess the good thing is, I realised that since I couldn’t do anything about my face, I would be better served focussing on my craft. I knew I was nothing when it came to my personality or my looks. It took some time to come out of that trauma, but I’m glad I made that decision.”

Nawaz’s character, Jatil, is a small-town cop and is very much a product of patriarchy. “I think he believes in the system more than his mother,” says Honey. “The film is about how he overcomes his own patriarchy.” It’s a film in which women often bear the brunt of the ways of men. For Honey, it’s a lot of what he saw growing up in Allahabad. “Deep down, in our society, let’s truly see how we treat women. My film also shows how women sometimes end up oppressing their own kind. It’s all about power,” he says. Radhika notes that though the film seems to end with the conventional idea of a man rescuing a woman, it’s actually the other way round if you think about it. “Nawaz’s character, Jatil, is a character who suffers from confidence issues. He is a cop in immense need for validation from a woman. With such characters, you can’t show them transforming in a day. Under the setup of this film, we can, and have explored how their journeys are evolving.”

<em>Aditya Srivastava, Shweta Tripathi and Shivani Raghuvanshi in Raat Akeli Hai</em>
Aditya Srivastava, Shweta Tripathi and Shivani Raghuvanshi in Raat Akeli Hai

Among the challenges faced by Jatil, the small-town cop investigating a murder is the law enforcement system itself, corrupted as it is by hierarchy and selfish bosses. “It’s very much a part of our system,” says Honey. “This quest for power is an angle we have explored, in the context of the larger story. Politicians, senior police officers… they are all looking out for themselves.”

While discussing the fallibilities of a system, I throw the question of how Bollywood, as a system, is dealing with mental health issues, especially in the aftermath of the demise of one of its stars. 
“I think people are jumping to conclusions about Sushant. That said, I do think there’s a need for greater awareness about mental health,” says Radhika. “If we are talking about nepotism though, that’s a larger conversation. Yes, actors should be picked on the basis of their merit, but if I have a lot of money, I’m of course going to spend it promoting my child. It’s a world where we take photographs of babies coming out of gyms, simply because they are children of a star. We must not reduce such a complicated conversation to a single aspect.”

Radhika remembers that she was advised against moving to Mumbai from Pune as a teenager in search of opportunities in cinema. “They told me I would get raped. They said that’s what happens in the film industry. Everyone has horrible perceptions of what happens in the film industry, and the problem is, we talk only in extremes. Let’s understand that we are all human beings, and I am the same creature as you. Let’s look to normalise our lives.”

And this normalisation, Nawaz says, begins with having friends to talk to. “It’s an important support system,” he says. “Actors, like anybody else, need people they can talk to, people who would actually listen to them discuss problems. I think listening is an underappreciated aspect of our lives. People need to start doing it more. We should all learn to listen.”

Raat Akeli Hai premieres today on Netflix.

<em>Radhika Apte</em>
Radhika Apte

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