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'Ludo' Movie Review: A Charming Mess About Lost Souls Hoping To Be Rescued By Love

Peppered with endearing performances by Rajkummar Rao, Abhishek Bachchan and Sanya Malhotra, 'Ludo' has its moments but eventually collapses under its own weight.
A still from Anurag Basu's 'Ludo'
HuffPost India
A still from Anurag Basu's 'Ludo'

In the rigid paradigm of Hindi cinema, where aesthetics are flattened out in a manner that most mainstream fare closely resembles one another, Anurag Basu is perhaps the most exciting filmmaker. There’s a radical sense of freedom in the manner he composes his frames, his shots filtered through a deep sense of child-like wonder and adult cinephilia.

In Ludo, a film about broken souls hoping to be rescued by love, he crafts a neat, overarching structure and goes on to demolish it by turning it into a hot mess. Towards the end, the film appears to perilously slip into David Dhawan-like screwball comedy (except better) before Basu ties it up in a manner that feels oddly satisfying and yet, not quite there.

It’s pointless to delve into the specifics of the film story but I’ll try: two former lovers (Aditya Roy Kapur, Sanya Malhotra) embark on a journey to find the source of their leaked sex-tape; to bail his cheating husband out of prison after he’s falsely (yet convincingly) accused of murder, a married woman (Fatima Sana Shaikh) seeks the help of a man who has been besotted by her since childhood (Rajkummar Rao, excellent); a small-time criminal (Abhishek Bachchan) returns to find his wife having moved on and his daughter not quite recognising him; a Malayali nurse and a young drifter (Rohit Saraf) cross paths and accidentally find a bagful of cash that could sort their lives. Pankaj Tripathi’s Sattu bhaiyya knots all these intersecting stories together because his business is basically getting into everybody else’s business.

Per several accounts, it’s known that Basu doesn’t work on a bound script and improvises scenes and dialogues on location. While in both Barfi and Jagga Jasoos, the trick worked. In Ludo, the lack of a coherent vision shows. Because here, Basu, the cinephile is marrying his surreal sensibilities with the complex multi-story structure of his earlier films, like Life, In A Metro. The result is too much mayhem and too little sense.

Ludo, for all its visual flourishes and intersecting storylines (the edit is designed in a way that it jumps timelines), essentially carries the same big themes that Barfi and Jagga Jasoos did: the desire to love and be loved, to belong and to make someone feel belonged. This is most acutely felt in Fatima Sana Shaikh and Rajkummar Rao’s storyline. He’s been pinning for her since childhood, she doesn’t quite care for him except that she doesn’t mind the attention and uses it to her benefit. He knows this, but the heart wants what it wants. “Some people just want to get fucked in love,” he says, it’s Hindi iteration a lot more effective than this translation.

The same is true for Abhishek Bachchan’s character, who, having lost both his wife and child as a result of his own actions, seeks to reform himself and has a series of epiphanies after finding himself in the company of a little girl who speaks well above her age. The two might be ages apart but their traumas of abandonment link them in a way that’s both, healing and cathartic. This idea ties into Rohit Saraf and Pearle Maaney’s characters, as well: their words lost in translation, their worlds ache for companionship.

As if worried that his intercutting narratives might not get through to the viewer, Basu inserts himself into the film as a narrator who distills the overarching ideas the movie dabbles with: good, bad, evil, sacrifice, homicide, infidelity, guilt. It feels unnecessary and verbose in a film that shines the most when it’s just engaging in a show of light and sound.

While two of Basu’s earlier movies gave a sense of pause and introspection, Ludo is frenetic and hurried and progressively goes off the tracks as it appears that director doesn’t quite know when to pull in the brakes and rein his characters in.

Ludo has the calmness of a spinning top: it wobbles and wobbles before collapsing under its own weight. However, it’s the performances: Abhishek Bachchan is particularly impressive as are Rajkummar Rao, Pearle Maaney and Sanya Malhotra.

Ultimately, Ludo’s structure mimics the story its maker is trying to tell. It’s messy and routinely trespasses established boundaries. It’s complicated and often doesn’t end well. Just like some love stories.

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This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost India, which closed in 2020. Some features are no longer enabled. If you have questions or concerns about this article, please contact indiasupport@huffpost.com.