Raat Akeli Hai on Netflix is a murder mystery that throws a rich political family and a police officer into a dark ditch of secrets.
The story is based in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where officer Jatil Yadav (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is handed over the case of a man, Raghubeer Singh/Thakur (Khalid Tyabji) who was murdered on the night of his wedding.
What follows is Jatil's interaction with Thakur's family members, creation of a special bond with the woman he had married, and unveiling of facts that were hidden behind the tall walls of the bungalow for years.
What makes Raat Akeli Hai interesting though, is that amid all this drama, it also manages to make social commentary.
For instance, the few short but importnant scenes between Jatil and his mother (played by Ila Arun). In the beginning of the movie Jatil is shown to be this prudish man living with his mother. His father was a cook, who passed away years ago.
Now when his mother asks him about marriage, he says that he wants his wife to be 'cultured', someone who knows 'how to behave' at home and outside.
The mother, in turn, calls him out on his hypocrisy.
She makes it clear that he is putting himself on a pedestal when he doesn't deserve it. She also tells him the importance of a person getting along with their partner, without worrying about the society.
These scenes are rare in Hindi cinema, and certainly a welcome change.
In another interesting scene between the two, you notice how malpractices work in a loop, making it tricky for people to dissociate from them, even if they want to.
Jatil tells her that he doesn't want to go and meet women for marriage because she demands dowry. And she tells him in return that she has to, otherwise people will think there is some flaw in him.
This shows how deep rooted these practices are, and how normalised. That if you do not become an accomplice, people think there is something wrong with you.
Which bring us to another important topic the movie tackles: The character assassination of women.
Radhika Apte plays the role of Radha, a woman who was abandoned by her father and 'bought' by Thakur who decided to marry her eventually.
She has spent her entire adult life in the most miserable conditions, being used physically and emotionally.
However, when Thakur dies, everyone turns towards her. They not only accuse her of the murder but also call her names. Words thrown around both, during arguments to disrespect her and during casual conversations.
Terms like 'tawaif' are used whenever there is a discussion about her and no one even bothers to call her by name.
The only glimmer of hope for Radha is Jatil. But he too, judges her constantly, for her choices.
Through all this though, Radha holds her own, she is helpless but not meek. There are things she can't do because of circumstances, but in the limited space she has, literally and figuratively, she is strong and says things as they are.
She even answers back to Jatil and never lets him overpower her.
In one of the scenes he judges her for being involved with two men and taunts her how one of them left her. In response, she says this.
Radha can attack if she needs to, she can shout back and she can assert authority if that is the only way out.
She is strong, despite the fact that the society treats her poorly. Or maybe because of it.
Another crucial thing to notice in Raat Akeli Hai, is its portrayal of the male privilege. How one person can 'buy' girls, bring them home and that is completely okay, but the same woman is made to go through hell. For what?
Thakur, someone who beats women, gets involved with underage girls, intimidates his wife and threatens everyone who questions his authority - is a respected person in the society.
People are scared of him, they follow his commands. Whereas, Radha, the one he tortures is called the ugliest slurs.
However, there are moments when the character is shown to be the evil monster it is. In one of the interrogation scenes, Nawazuddin Siddiqui asks Thakur's daughter Karuna (played by Shweta Tripathi), that what does she think of her father.
And she says.
Another theme the movie explores is expectation from the women to be subservient and suffer misery in silence. You see it in the way Karuna's husband treats her. Her brother, a drug addict who was once convicted for it, lives a normal life, but she has to follow orders.
There is another example from the movie that highlights this point but we'd refrain from discussing it as it will be a major spoiler.
Apart from this, the movie also talks about topics like colourism with subtlety. Jatil, who is conscious of his complexion, or is made to be, applies fairness cream and hides it behind the mirror so that no one finds it.
He wants to fit into the society's idea of 'good looking' but also doesn't want it to seem like he cares about it.
That's a dilemma many men face but never talk about.
Raat Akeli Hai looks and feels like a 2020 murder mystery. It is not about a killing and the investigation that follows, it also about the hundred different things that are choked to death by the society. This includes prestige of women, their dignity and self-respect of people in general.
All images are taken from Netflix, unless specified otherwise.