Anurag Basu’s film is a chaotic hot mess, being narrated over and with analogies from the famous game Ludo. Basu is one of the filmmakers that makes reality look animated with the world he creates however his characters are as human as they get. They are flawed, grey, sometimes even barren and lonely, and they all want to be rescued by love, which also makes for the core of this rather messy film. There are certain errors which make this whimsical film a little boring in the middle thanks to his rather long run time, while the end goes into a slow-mo comedy just like that of David Dhawan, which does bring a smile to your face, however, doesn’t really satisfy you.
With all the issues that the film may have, Basu still manages to bring a smile on your face. The way he portrays his world, similar to his other films like Barfi and Jagga Jasoos, is innovative with every film he does. Anurag, who has also written the film, and portrayed himself as some kind of master of complex emotions where romance is sad, and gore murder is funny. After 2007, and Life in a Metro, he comes back with a multiple story format with twists that one up each other in each story, while intersecting at certain points.
The film starts with a fat man taking a bath in his bathtub, when suddenly a goon kicks open the door, and points a gun at him. He says that he is not killing him, he is freeing his soul for it to re-enter another body. This killer is none other than Sattu Bhaiyya (Pankaj Tripathi). All these highly tensed events play with a background score of a rather funny track “Oh Betaji” from the film Albela, which transforms the scene to make it what it isn’t.
Just like Ludo, which is a four-player game, there are four other stories being played out; ex-lovers who regroup when they realise a sex tape is out in the open and go out on a journey to find the culprit; a wife (Fatima Sana Sheikh), goes back to her childhood friend, who she knows would do anything thanks to him being an “emotional fool” when it comes to her, to bail out her husband; a retired criminal (Abhishek Bachchan), fresh out jail realises that his wife has moved on and his daughter has no idea that he actually exists; a Malayali nurse and a store salesperson (Rohit Saraf) cross paths and come in contact with a huge bag of money which could solve all their problems. The knot tying all these independent stories into one big story is Sattu Bhaiyya who puts things into motion by killing that man, and even otherwise his business is to poke his nose in other people’s businesses.
The first half hour of the film goes on just setting up all these independent stories, and the other two hours, the filmmaker takes to carry them on, which at some level becomes too much to sustain, and hence boring. On top of that, because of these intersecting storylines, Basu feels the need to even put himself in the mix, playing sutradhar, who not only plays narrator but also talks about the overarching themes of the film, that of good, bad, sacrifice, death, love etc. This addition of his own self seems rather convenient that he uses a voice over to actually guide the audience through the chaotically complex narrative.
The basic value within this film is love and to be loved, however with such a frantic film, Basu misses out on fleshing the best journeys for all his characters. Some of them deliver extremely endearing performances while some just stay flat. The most accurate story depicting what Basu actually wants to convey comes from that between Aaloo (Rajkummar Rao) and Pinky (Fatima Sana Sheikh). Aaloo has been under Pinky’s spell since school days, and Pinky used this to her advantage at all times without being empathetic. Even after marriage, when her husband is wrongfully charged of murder, she goes to him for help because she knows he will do anything. Rajkummar knows this, but somewhere deep down he still wants Pinky to love him back, and he says a dialogue that translates to, “Some people just want to get fucked in love.” Aaloo was a Bachchan fan, but for Pinky, became a Mithun fan and even in her absence never lost character. We root for Aaloo to find that sense of happiness that he has been longing and we want Pinky to realise the pain behind the smile Aaloo puts up.
Similarly, with Bittu (Abhishek), a goon who gives up that life only to realise that his past put him in a hole, and when he comes out, realises that the two people who he did that for, have moved on. Hence, he seeks to go down the right path and amidst that tries to relive experiences that he may have missed with his actual daughter, with this chirpy little girl. One feels the turmoil going within Bittu and Abhishek pulls off a great performance.
Ludo, practically completely made by Anurag Basu who is also the DOP on the film, is an anthology of crime, humanity, romance and belonging but due to so much going on in the film, cannot do justice to all its parallel tracks. The ending too, goes into this screwball comedy which though puts a smile on one’s face, doesn’t seem completely fulfilling. However, Basu, yet again does a phenomenal job in creating yet another aesthetically beautiful piece with a great cast and stunning concept.
Now streaming on Netflix.