The polls are out. Almost all edifices have unanimously declared ‘Andhadhun’ as the best Hindi language movie of 2018, and for right reason. The film, released in the second half of 2018, brought much aplomb to its makers and also proved to be a successful commercial outing by virtue of an overwhelmingly positive word of mouth and its all praises reviews. Another feather in the cap for its director, the one name in Bollywood for cinema that comes close to noir in India, ‘Andhadhun’ is sharp, witty, and relentless in the way it throws twist after twist at you, all the while keeping the treatment fresh and interesting. The soundtrack is on point, the performances excel, and the script is one of the freshest I have seen in a long time.
With many an ode to the golden days of Bollywood, ‘Andhadhun’ is the kind of movie that happens once in a long while, especially in Bollywood. I, as a viewer, have an especially deep appreciation for films that are commercially and cinematically well-balanced, and deliver an entertaining experience by the time the end credits roll, one that is far from the kind of mind numbing entertainment the Indian audience is accustomed to. I was amazed at the kind of pleasure the regular public drew at the twists the plot had to offer, and if that is a sign of the times to come, there is a glimmer of hope, however faint. An overtly satisfying experience, the film left very little to be desired for me when the credits rolled, except for the ambiguous ending that might have raised some eyebrows. Open to the wildest interpretations, and as precarious as a blind man’s bluff, the ending was the sweetest part of this devilishly twisted fruit of a film for me. Was Akash actually blind by the end of the film? If no, where did he get the means for his retinal transplant? And what of Simi, a vixen played to the T by the ever feisty Tabu? Following a swift breakdown of the plot, we quickly delve into searching the answers for these pining questions.
Easily one of the film’s (and for that matter, any good film’s) strongest suites is the plot. Partly inspired from the 2010 French short film ‘l’Accordeur’ (The Piano Tuner), Raghavan effortlessly infuses the tale of a man pretending to be blind to stimulate his art stuck as the witness of a murder with the elements of a psychological thriller, an effective whodunnit, where despite knowing the killer from the start, mystery lurks at every corner to keep you guessing, and ofcourse, some innately funny dark humour, mined mostly from the comedy of multiple errors the actors find themselves to be a part of.
The film begins with the quote: “What is Life? It depends on the Liver”, and while this may not be an indication of things to come, this will gain a lot more context as we proceed towards the ending, followed by Ayushmann dictating this in voiceover: “It’s a long story. Coffee?”, almost as if talking directly to the viewer. The black quickly subsides to show a man with a rifle, apparently a farmer overlooking a cabbage field, on the lookout for a hare who is blind in one eye, threatening the harvest. The hare prances about the field evading the farmer’s bullet, until finally it rests still in front of a milestone. The farmer, believing that he has a clear shot, takes it, while the screen cuts to black and the title of the film is revealed. In the background, we hear the sound of a car crashing and erupting into flames. Again, this bears no context to the film whence it opens with the introductory scenes, but will be significantly important once we hit the ending.
The next sequence (the first one with the primary performers) shows our protagonist Akash (Ayushmann), a blind pianist, struggling with an incomplete tune, and how he gets by in his day-to-day as a blind man. Thrown in the mix are yesteryear actor Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan), the source of much of the 70s nostalgia in the film, and his trophy wife Simi (Tabu). While Pramod is now a realtor and often reminisces about the golden days of his career, Simi wears deceit up her sleeve and is clearly with him for the money and a shot at reviving a bygone TV show. Radhika Apte plays Sofie in a limited role, who one fateful day bumps into Akash and offers him to play at her father’s diner, also being instantly attracted to him. By now, it is revealed that Akash isn’t blind, and fakes his disability to stimulate his art and for increased focus.
While performing, Akash’s talent catches the eye of Pramod Sinha who invites him at his place for a private concert the next day to celebrate his anniversary with Simi. When Akash turns up the next day, Simi is reluctant to let him in, but does so seeing her neighbour Mrs. D’sa spotting Akash and sniffing suspicion. While Akash plays, he discovers Pramod’s dead body but continues playing, realising that Simi too allows him to, believing him to be blind. He later discovers inspector Manohar, revealed to be Simi’s lover and Pramod’s killer upon being caught cheating, hiding in the bathroom with a gun, but continues pretending for his own sake. Here on now, Akash is embroiled in a game he didn’t sign up for, but plays along fearing for his own safety.
Later, Akash’s attempt to report the murder is thwarted when Manohar turns out to be the inspector of the police station he visits. Following a close brush, Akash is further pulled into the whirlwind when he visits the Sinha residence for tutoring Pramod’s daughter in notations of his old songs, and ends up witnessing Mrs. D’sa’s murder at the hands of Simi, pushing her over the railing of her multi-storey building, lest she prove to be a problem as a witness to seeing Manohar enter before Akash the day of the murder, excellently backed by Wendy Carlos’ piece from ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Simi stages a coy at Akash’s house to discover that he isn’t blind, and poisons him nonetheless, making him lose his eyesight. Sofie, now also aware of Akash’s secret confronts the two, while Simi makes it appear like they have been sleeping together and she leaves, heartbroken. Unconvinced that blinding Akash would be enough, Manohar returns to Akash’s house to murder him, but Akash escapes and wakes up in a deserted hospital after collapsing on the street. The hospital run by one Dr. Swami, Akash discovers is a front for illegal organ harvesting.
While the doctor and his assistants, Murli and Sakhu prep to harvest Akash’s kidneys, Akash reveals to have seen a tattoo on Sakhu’s arm from earlier when he had vision but was pretending to be blind, appealing to their curiosity and sense of disbelief, while luring them in with a plan for a crore by kidnapping Simi and asking the money as ransom from Manohar. On the day of the pickup, Murli and Sakhu double cross Akash who is left in the same room as Simi, now blindfolded, and proceed to collect the money. In the chaos that ensues, Murli is shot by Manohar and succumbs, while Manohar manages to accidentally shoot himself in the lift. The doctor who declares Murli dead offers Sakhu the option of donating the deceased’s organs.
Back at the clinic, Simi is able to trick Akash and in a bid to escape, attacks both Akash and Dr. Swami, injuring him with a surgical blade, but is soon overpowered, gagged, and put in the trunk of Dr. Swami’s car, who then drives to Pune airport with Akash. On the way, Dr. Swami informs Akash of the rarity of Simi’s blood type and that they would be paid 6 crores for selling her organs to a wealthy Sheikh. He also offers Akash part of the money to go to London to fulfil his dream of entering a competition there, and getting a retinal transplant. Akash resists, but is seemingly overcome by Dr. Swami’s argument against Simi, elaborating that her organs would impart life to some people, and a vile woman as such should be met with the same fate. ‘What is life? It depends on the Liver’, he says. Surely, now you can appreciate how contextually well placed the quote is among its many connotations. The two then drive off into the distance as the screen cuts to black.
The story now shifts to Krakow, Poland, where Sofie encounters Akash playing in a bar, and later confronts him, still assuming him to be faking his blindness. Akash informs her otherwise, and narrates a tale that picks up from the bit in the starting of the movie. While the two are driving off, they hear Simi struggling in the trunk, and Dr. Swami stops the car to sedate her. In a flash turn of events, it is quickly revealed that Simi has slit Dr. Swami’s throat and drives off, while Dr. Swami collapses, bleeding profusely. Akash, seemingly still unaware that the car was being driven by Simi instead of Dr. Swami, confesses in favour of Simi and deciding against partaking in selling her organs. Simi orders Akash to get off the car, and drives off, only to turn quickly at a distance, now pacing to run him over. In a turn of events that even defies bizarre, the hare from the first sequence, in an attempt to escape the farmer’s shot, leaps forth and collides with the windshield of Simi’s car, making her lose control and crash as the car erupts into flame, killing her on the spot. Truth or not, Akash is able to visibly regain Sofie’s sympathy after narrating his side of the story, telling her how desperately he wanted to move on and came to London with some help from a friend. Sofie is swayed and sympathetic toward him, as she retorts to his story saying that he should’ve taken the doctor’s offer, and let Simi die for having destroyed so many lives. Akash faintly smiles, and walks on, hitting a can on the way with his walking cane. This is where the film ends, and the speculations begin.
Having rewatched the film, I have nothing but deep appreciation for Sriram Raghavan, who has, through attention to some miniscule detail managed to deliver an ending coming out of which is nothing less than a labyrinthine experience. This is, without a doubt, the first Hindi film in ages for which Quora threads run just shy from a night full of reading material and theories, while the internet runs amok with speculations. Among the seemingly vast array of information, I offer my take on the ambiguous ending, in decreasing degree of plausibility. One must remember that they are still ‘theories’ as there always will exist a claim or plot hole that will refute its existence as the absolute explanation. Let’s take a look.
Theory 1: Blind Man’s Bluff
The most plausible theory according to me, and by plausible, I mean the one with the least suspension of disbelief, and hence potential plotholes. Yes, the first possible outcome is that Akash was bluffing with Sofie. In that, the entire sequence of events narrated by Akash, including Simi managing to escape from the trunk of the car, killing the doctor in the process, driving off and being hit by a prancing hare on the windshield, and subsequently crashing and killing herself, was completely fabricated, for the sole purpose of inciting Sofie’s empathy for Akash, which she lost following the debacle back home. What actually happened was that the doctor and Akash drove off, and Akash, despite the initial resentment, ends up taking the offer of selling Simi’s organs (who is anyway presumed dead by the police and public following her abduction staged to look like she had drowned). He then uses part of that money to travel to London, and to have a retinal transplant. Whether he is able to find a donor for that, only utilising the money in the process, or he is able to have Simi’s retina transplanted in place of his is largely open to interpretation. This is made clear using a very prominent shot in the film, which is also more of a physical location marker.
Remember this tree on the right side of the frame? As highlighted here, the relative position of the tree with respect to the doctor’s car is an important differentiator between the two stories, the bluff and the most bizarre tell (if at all that happened). Right after Dr. Swami utters the ‘liver’ dialogue, the duo drive by the tree unperturbed, and the scene cuts.
However, if you closely observe the same tree with respect to the car in Akash’s story with the hare, the duo stop right next to the tree to check up on Simi as shown here. What this establishes is that the two major sequence of events, one without the hare wherein Akash went ahead with taking the money from selling Simi’s organs, and the one with the hare, are mutually exclusive of each other: they are two different sets of events as opposed to appearing to happen linearly. That of course means only one of them is true, and in all plausibility, it is this one. One might also argue that the completely outlandish nature of Akash’s tale is the tell to his bluff. A blind man’s bluff, a lie to incite sympathy and to conceal another lie.
Theory 2: The Posthumous Donor
Ever heard of an anecdote built around the premise of reality being stranger than fiction? I happen to be a firm believer in that, and here, find myself a part of the minority believing that the set of events as stated by Akash to Sofie, involving the hare jumping to evade the farmer’s shot and hitting the windshield of Simi’s car, causing her to lose control, crash and die are all true, and happened exactly the way they are narrated. I also refuse to believe that this is the strangest story you might have heard yet, because it barely scratches the surface when it comes to strange. This is, of course, one of the theories, but has lesser merit and a greater suspension of disbelief associated with it compared to the first one. Then again, for a film that is so bent on taking you for a ride, I won’t mind hopping on.
It is what may have conspired following this that makes things really interesting. After walking away from Sofie, Akash still kicks the can, and it is obvious that he is not blind anymore, atleast not completely. Contemplating an equally bizarre set of events, my guess is that Akash was able to get the transplant from Murli, who is now deceased. Remember the scene when the doctor who breaks the news of Murli’s death to Sakhu, also asks Sakhu if she would be willing to donate his organs, and the scene cuts before you know the resolution of it? That Raghavan did it only to mess with your head and that there is only one absolute theory is also bought by me, I cannot help but consider an alternate, albeit slightly implausible theory that keeps the mix interesting. To add to it, the blind man seated next to Sakhu does more than completing the frame!
The Half-Blind Hare
This one is my personal favourite, and while there are the most number of instances that denounce this one as mere chance or misinterpretation, I still believe this to be partly true. If so, Raghavan sure knows how to jazz up an already heady concoction. You must have caught this from the trailer itself: the hare shown prancing around in the field is injured in one eye, and hence partially blind.
To add to that, Akash’s cane towards the end has a hare carved at its handle. If you observe closely enough, the other half of the hare’s face is never shown, which I believe is more than a mere camera trick. The hare and his predicament are then allegorical to Akash and his predicament he finds himself unwillingly bound to. This conspired from when Simi tried to poison Akash with sweets, resulting in Akash waking up lamenting his loss of vision, dunking his head in a bucket of water. Unless you too are watching the film with one eye closed, one can notice the difference in damage in both his eyes.
The extent to which he was partially blind is another guess, and all of the instances might be mere coincidences, but the amount of circumstantial evidence we have for this theory merits a thought and a mention. All of these contrary instances: Akash grabbing the iron just in time to fend himself from Manohar, being able to nab Simi when she stabs the doctor, reaching Simi’s place and playing the piano with Daani despite being recently blinded, conveniently switching the track of the conversation in Simi’s favour when she enters the car having slit the doctor’s throat (that is of course assuming that the second sequence if events stated here is true), and numerous such instances, all seem more than mere coincidences to my icky mind. Ofcourse, contrarily too, there are many instances where he ‘appears’ completely blind, but by now, he is well versed with ‘faking it’ for his sake, isn’t he?
What follows suit once this theory is established as having some fair merit, may be either of the two sequences of events stated above. The first path would lead to Akash manipulating the whole situation being only partially blind, only to have his way in the end and getting the transplant. The second path would lead to Akash being embroiled in the bizarre state of events with the hare, barely surviving and continuing his life with partial blindness (explaining how he could kick the can), or alternatively getting the transplant from the now deceased Murli.
P.S. Before ending the article, I must take the opportunity to shed light on this one facet of the film that has my heart. During the final minutes of the film, when Sofie encounters Akash playing in a bar, she is taken aback with surprise. The song Akash is performing is ‘Woh Ladki’, sung by Arijit Singh for another eclectic Amit Trivedi composition. ‘Woh ladki’ plays on the same notes as the tune Akash is struggling with when the film opens. The piano piece he performs in the song’s outro thus marks him completing the tune he was stuck on for so long, and the lyrics clearly state that Sofie was his muse for the number. In a lot of ways, for me, the completion of the tune marks Akash’s story coming full circle: from not blind, to blind/partially blind, and not blind again. One of the many things that elated me as a viewer.
While the film does trade logic in a few places in an attempt to deliver a plot twist, it also remains the only Bollywood film to actually stay in my head by virtue of its ingenious plot twists and a great, great ending that does get you thinking. You can choose to go for the ride and appreciate that an attempt has been made to elevate what the general audience considers entertainment, or sit on the sidelines nitpicking plot holes and illogicalities. For this film that effectively disarmed me with the amazing opening piano score, I side unapologetically with the former category of viewers. If anything, irrespective of the film’s ending being direct or ambiguous, ‘Andhadhun’ manages to alleviate Bollywood’s obsession with happy endings, and delivers a closure that is at once oddly satisfying yet abruptly incomplete. Some things are only complete because of their incompleteness, as they say.