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Friday, September 22, 2023

Ludo Review: Board Game Metaphor Becomes Dark Comedy Frenzy

Ludo brings together some of India’s finest actors including Abhishek A. Bachchan, Aditya Roy Kapur, Rajkummar Rao, Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Rohit Saraf, Pearle Maaney, Pankaj Tripathi, Asha Negi, Shalini Vats and Inayat Verma.

The film aspires to take viewers on multiple journeys in the course of a couple of hours, introducing various characters.

They say you don’t meet people by accident, they are meant to cross your path for a reason.

Following the journey of four different lives who meet at a crossroads, Ludo promises to be more than just a mere coincidence.

To combine several characters and their journies is a tough job and Basu does that competently, to an extent. Without giving too much away, the situations revolve around the following characters:

A bride-to-be (Sanya) whose sex-tape gets leaked on the internet. A retail worker who unknowingly witnesses a murder (Rohit).

A child (Inayat) who yearns the love of her parents and a filmy buff (Rajkummar) who still has an unrequited love for his high-school crush.

These principal characters are united by the common reason of Sattu (Pankaj), an idiosyncratic and ruthless Don (No – it’s not Kaleen from Mirzapur) and a few dimwit cops. How? What? Why? There are 2 hours and 30 minutes to find out.

So imagine Jagga Jasoos narrated in the style of Life… In A Metro. That pretty much gives an indication of what Ludo is.

I like the idea of using a popular board game as a metaphor, Anurag quite literally rolls the dice on how each ‘player’ transitions and deals with the situations. But the execution isn’t as sharp as this.

There seems to be a jumble of ideas splashed on this colourful canvas. Having dual spiritual narrators is also reminiscent of Vikas and Kalyan from Batti Gul Meter Chalu.

He even uses Mahabharat references to explain the meaning of sins and virtues, good and bad, in a way which dilutes the overall concept, making a certificate 15 film seem like its a PG. 

Anurag plays a god-like narrator for which he even makes several comments on the political landscape by using words like ‘Atmanirbhar’ and how ‘Cows give votes in India’, to seem relevant. These hints, however, did nothing of how it proceeds.

As such, the symbolism of ‘ludo’ only works for the first hour after which the viewer gets caught up in the havoc which unfolds. In fact, the length is too long and could’ve been concluded with 2 hours itself. 

Like his previous works (a la Barfi) this also combines a dark gritty reality and innocent poignancy in a humorous way.

On one hand, if there’s a serious crime like a murder, then there’s a cute bond between a scorned man and a young girl who seeks parental love.

Both aspects are seamlessly handled and at no point does one style overpower the other. The humour is well in check too.  At no point in the movie does it become too childish or irritating and the comedy is witty.

Situations like Rajkummar Rao’s character bursting into a hotel room dressed a cop pointing a gun saying ‘Tu Rakh’ are hilarious… But then again,  this too gives a sense of deja vu (remember Delhi Belly?)

When it comes to technicalities, the cinematography is splendid at times. Though ocasionally, the slow-motion action reminds one of Shaitan and the editing is crisp – which helps to transition the movie well.

The actors united in this film are fabulous and all of them are good. But the standout performances for me are of Rajkummar Rao, Inayat Verma and Aditya Roy Kapur. 

Continuing his current phase of comedies, Rao plays perhaps his ditsiest character (named Aalu) yet. His Mithun Chakraborty wig is so nostalgic of the 80s.

His gullibility and puppy-eyed nature makes one root for him and yet face-palm because of the lengths he goes through to help his love (which is played by Fatima Sana Shaikh).

The way he explains the film dishes so quickly without stopping is also very tremendous – definitely a highlighted role, according to me. 

New child-artiste Inayat is confident. If you’ve seen her on Colors TV’s Kitchen Champions, you’ll know what a feverous attitude she has.

Image Credits: Kerry Monteen/NETFLIX

But yet playing this vulnerable yet mischievous girl she fuses these both aspects so well and she’s an absolute delight. Her camaraderie with Abhishek Bachchan is amiable too.

So Aditya had this charming, cheeky and cute personality in his supporting roles during films like London Dreams and Guzaarish. 

Somehow, that vibe became increasingly distant as he undertook more central roles which were self-destructive and on the darker side of the spectrum.

But his role in Ludo brings back the old ARK I adored. We see him as an aspiring ventriloquist who exudes charm, hotness and frivolity. Plus, his chemistry with Sanya is lovely too!

A special mention also goes to Shalini Vatsa, who plays Kutty – a rebellious Nurse and ends up becoming a pivotal character. She has a very solid screen presence and stands out amongst the star-studded cast.

Overall, Ludo has its fair share of entertaining moments. The concept tries to be unique and seeing an ensemble of this stature is undoubtedly a treat.

However, given that Anurag Basu has delivered some masterpieces like Barfi! and Jagga Jasoos in the past, can this be credited a standalone original? Perhaps, not. 

Since some Bollywood movies have been quite a dud recently, it is worth giving this one a stream on Netflix. 

⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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