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Murder mysteries are our answer to superhero films blog image

Murder mysteries are our answer to superhero films

Written By Odanta HQ

May 2, 2023

  4 min read

Walking down the stairs after a stupendous showing of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, we overheard an animated fan say, “Only with murder mysteries do Bollywood filmmakers get this creative.”

 

That got us thinking. No matter how geared up they were on Rihanna’s Lift Me Up, there was some truth in what he said. After the pandemic and Sushant’s unfortunate demise, Bollywood was treated the same way Bangalore traffic is: with contempt. Everyone was targeted, trolled and vilified. On top of that, theatres were shut so business was doing no good. This pushed the producers and the decision makers in a shell. Aaj se sirf thanda khaana, they decided.

 

 

Film after film was churned out with the same messaging. Akshay Kumar was in more films a year than a college kid washes his underwear a month. Creative talents were suffocated in a bid to improve Hindi cinema’s image. If only they knew that the way out of the grave they had dug for themselves was to trust those same creatives with the wacky ideas.

 

Thank God Netflix trusted Vasan Bala.

 

You see, Bala loves cinema and the power of a good story. You can see thousands of films in his, a watering hole of influence, every time he gets behind the camera. The switching cities in one night is surely ripped off straight from Sriram Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddar. The eerie soundtrack as the heroine dances to a cabaret number is a nod to the 1960’s Golden Era.

 

Of course, there are a few other auteurs like him in India. SS Rajamouli and his impressive tapestry of work shows you how keenly he watches films, and then introduces those same themes in a setting that works for Indians. While Vishal Bhardwaj, the daddy of adaptations, allows you to be completely swept away into his world. When his Haider cracks and spouts “Main rahun ya na rahun”, you don’t remember Shakespeare. You think of Kashmir, violence and the effect it wrought on one man’s psyche.

 

 

Monica O My Darling and Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota aren't your typical Bollywood fare. The films are anchored by strong, inventive performances that allow the characters to translate beyond the screen. Take for example, Rajkummar Rao and his ability to sell intense pressure as humour. He did the same in Stree, but there is a fantastic scene here in Monica, with him dancing dangerously with a cobra, his face bursting with perspiration and delusion. Give the man his flowers, please.

 

While Mard was an ambitious risk, Monica matches it and more. The plot starts out as standard fare, of three men in a bad situation, a jilted lover and a temptress of yore. But then the lines between these stock characters start to blur, as the temptress is nothing but a woman looking to make her own way in the world, the lover is nothing but a repressed man-child who loves flexing his new-found power. It yanks the carpet from under you, not skilfully, but you will definitely be on your face by the time the film ends.

 

Just like Rian Johnson did with Knives Out, Bala too uses a murder mystery as a canvas to paint his own picture in. The retro hat-tips, the female fatale in a blood-red dress, the perfect potboiler. But what defines this film is its music.

 

Every slo-mo shot, every nerve-racking scene. The film not only pays tribute to the songs of our golden era, especially the renditions of the title track, but uses them as devices to tell you about what’s going on. When the hunters suddenly become the hunted, the background score has the exact lyrics. It’s a film pieced together by all the aspects of filmmaking, and that’s when you know a vision came together perfectly.

 

Going back to our earlier question, we now know that Marvel films are rarely ever just a superhero film. While Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is a geopolitical thriller of two superpowers coming to terms with each other, Ant-Man was a comedy-heist film in the veins of Ocean’s Eleven. They keep developing innovative ways of giving us the same superhero, the same way murder mysteries are the most creative outlet for Indian filmmakers. With Johnny Gaddar and Andhadhun, the audiences know the basic trappings of the genre, and enjoy it thoroughly. So every filmmaker worth his salt wants to upend their expectation.

 

Can’t wait for the next one, Bollywood.

Andhadhun banner Johnny Gaddar banner Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota banner Baazigar banner Monica O My Darling banner

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