Paoli Dam walking down a staircase of a palatial haveli in a perfectly draped sari, somewhere in Rajasthan (the film doesn’t bother with specifics), might make for an intriguing start to a whodunnit. Dam, who was the best thing about Anvita Dutt’s Bulbbul, uses her deceptive presence to a similar effect here in Avinash Das’s Raat Baaki Hai. However, the final impact is far from what one might expect. Or depending on your opinion of Zee5, barely surprising. Not for her own fault, Dam’s character, Vasuki, is infuriatingly simple. Having made a career out of playing the Tagore-ian character, who mopes and pines at the dressing table while looking like a million bucks, Dam’s eeriness is short-changed in the Zee5 film. Using her soft voice to cajole the leading man, Kartik (Annup Sonni, the numerology evidently not working for him) into dropping his guard, the film would have worked significantly better if it dug deep with Dam’s character. Instead, it takes the easy way out and plays out like a conventional murder mystery, where murders look awfully synthetic, and the mystery barely makes it past the first act.
A Bollywood star, Vaani Kapoor (Dipannita Sharma), also referred to as Vaani Chopra at one point, is found murdered in a hotel room. She had gotten engaged to her beau, Kartik, only a few hours earlier. Kartik we’re told, is a writer. Anyone familiar with the hierarchy in the film industry, understands the natural conflict here between an A-list actor and a lowly writer, a conflict that the makers don’t seem interested in. Rahul Dev is tasked with the role of a greasy investigator, who uses all his interrogation scenes to showcase his deadpan face. Dev’s Rajasthani-afflicted delivery isn’t consistent, but there are simple pleasures in hearing the expletives roll out of his tongue. Following up on the acts of the likes of a Jaideep Ahlawat and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Dev is understandably below par. His detective abilities are also questionable, considering how he fixates on a producer attending the engagement, instead of looking for Kartik, who seems to be fleeing from the scene.
The flashbacks in the film are lazily expository, only to colour the characters in shades of doubt. The final ‘reveal’ is incredibly facile too, something most viewers will see from a mile away. The vapid, leftover royalty of Rajasthan has been an interesting and recurring trope in recent films and the OTT space, especially in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Sahib, Biwi Aur Gangster franchise, and also in last year’s Aarya.
It’s no coincidence then, that Avinash Das’s film looks like a derivative version of Raat Akeli Hai, a film that also borrowed its title from a popular Hindi song, much like Avinash Das’s film. It’s an oft repeated pattern in recent films, like when the makers of Malang went out of their way to pay homage to ‘Aaj Ki Raat Koi Aane Ko Hai’ from 1982’s Anamika, via Anil Kapoor’s character. Directors probably think these add a bit of retro cool to the films. One fails to understand it is if they do go through the trouble to doff their hats to an era behind us, then why can’t they also write a story worthy of being a tribute to that era?
The only decent thing about Avinash Das’s Raat Baaki Hai, is its run-time at 89 minutes. At least, it ensures that we’re not wasting more than 89 minutes on such a basic ‘mystery’. The last half hour is particularly painful to endure, when the whodunnit suddenly morphs into ‘Here-is-why-I-did-it’. Characters go to great lengths to explain how they ‘chanced upon’ (not very subtly) the most bizarre clues, and what their motivations behind the murders REALLY are. The plot-points here are so contrived, that you can see smudges of the screenwriter’s ink, putting four and four together to make it 44.
Das started out promisingly as a filmmaker with Anarkali of Aarah, and after that, he’s been at the helm of Netflix’s She and this wreckage. Raat Baaki Hai is the kind of film where someone changes into black turtlenecks, black trousers and black boots before going out to murder someone. It’s the only moment when the film woke me up, and drew a laugh out of me. Alas! There aren’t even enough of those.