Film: Ludo (streaming on Netflix)
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Aditya Roy Kapur, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Rohit Suresh Saraf, Pearle Maaney, Inayat Verma, Asha Negi
Director: Anurag Basu
IANS Rating: * * and 1/2 (two and a half stars)
‘Ludo’ is brilliant as a concept, engaging in execution, but mostly mediocre in output. It is a film that ensembles four intertwined stories of love and relationships, and the idea is to spread out a narrative with a twist of irreverence and wry humour.
Anurag Basu, the hand that rolls the dice, has been among mainstream Bollywood’s most interesting storytellers over the recent past. With Ludo, he structures a narrative that would remind you of his 2007 anthology Life In A… Metro, although the stories and the flavours of the two films are wholly different.
The innovation that Basu attempts with his new dark comedy is to create out a four-pronged narrative that moves much like the board game from which the film draws its name. These are plots that move concurrently and, like a game of ludo, end at a common point. Basu, in fact, also colour-codes his four stories, with the dominant passion of each tale being defined by a particular colour on the ludo board — red, blues, green or yellow.
The first of these stories is about a ventriloquist Aakash (Aditya Roy Kapoor) and rich girl Ahana (Sanya Malhotra). Aakash discovers a viral video of a casual sexual encounter they once had. He sets off to warn the girl, only to find she is about to get married.
In the second story, Rajkummar Rao plays Alok Kumar or Aalu, petty local tough and Mithun Chakraborty clone who ends up spending most of the film trying to rescue the husband of Pinky (Fatima Sana Shaikh), the object of his onesided affection since they were kids.
Abhishek Bachchan toplines the third story as Bittu the goon, whose dream of uniting with his estranged little daughter (Inayat Verma) meets a bizarre twist of fate.
The last story involves a hapless store salesman (Rohit Suresh Saraf) and a South Indian nurse (Pearle Maaney), who are in dire need of money and end up with an unexpected and dangerous fortune.
The four stories find a point to converge in the world of gangster Sattu bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi), who has own little misadventure in store.
Basu does a good job setting up the tales but his storytelling process needed to be crisper. The film’s 150-minute runtime could have been trimmed to a couple of hours. The sluggish pace means none of the stories wholly come alive. Overall, as the stories head towards the film’s climax, Basu’s storytelling tends to go out of control.
Ludo is a delight primarily owing to its cast. Every actor in this film brings out the quirks associated with the role, notably Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi and little Inayat Verma. Together, the film’s hapless protagonists engage in a bittersweet run against time as a peculiar play of emotions unfolds on the screen.