Ludo review: Anurag Basu and his players roll home in this ‘dice’ of life dramedy

Though crime is an integral part of this story, Ludo is a lighter take on the grim realities of its unique, engaging characters.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Deep into the film, Satyendra Tripathi aka Sattu [Pankaj Tripathi] tells the head nurse Latha Kutti [Shalini Vatsa], “When luck suck, everyone f**k”.  There he lies on the bed, broken and bruised.  It is human to show compassion for the wounded but harbour no empathy for this man. The local don Sattu is a gruesome killer and he perhaps deserves this suffering.  It is his action[s] that pulls over the protagonists in a chaotic muddle.

Right or wrong, director Anurag Basu isn’t judging anybody. To him Sattu and his many characters mirror the game of Ludo. Each player vying to reach home with individual desires. Like Ludo, their fate dependant on a roll of dice. “Life is Ludo, and Ludo is life,” the bearded Basu, sporting black shades, proclaims at the beginning.

Through the course of 150 minutes, we are exposed to varied characters some who evoke our empathy, love, while some get on to your nerves.  Batukeshwar Tiwari aka Bittu [Abhishek Bachchan], Alok Kumar Gupta aka Aalu [Rajkummar Rao], Akash Chauhan [Aditya Roy Kapur] three vastly different characters, but each of  them share a common pain – unlucky in love.  

Bittu has his brief moment of bliss, but it is all ruined in one reckless act that has now seen him drift apart from his wife and daughter Ruhi.  Aalu, the stupid Romeo who did it all for his school crush Pinky [Fatima Sana Shaikh] but the girl tied the knot with a rich businessman. Akash, a perennial struggler who is sporting enough to share his ‘dumping’ story via his alter ego. The ventriloquist, voice over artist though reunites with his crush Shruti Chowksi [Sanya Malhotra] in the most bizarre way.

For garment store salesman Rahul Awasthi [Rohit Saraf] and Malayalee nurse Sheeja Thomas [Pearle Maaney] life is a grind each day filled with no honour but only humiliation. Destiny’s roll of dice puts them in the thick of action in this dramedy.   And then we have little Mini [Inayat Verma] a pretty child way mature above her age. She stages her own kidnapping in the hope that would get her much needed attention and love from her toxic parents.

Young or old, Basu’s Ludo players either seek love, attention, or are consumed by personal greed.

The varied characters and their intertwining stories sets them on collision course.  Memories of Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe [2019] springs to mind, but Ludo is a lighter take on the grim realities of its characters. The natural wit of some characters sets Ludo apart from the more pensive, impulsive characters from Super Deluxe [2019] .

Sattu makes you scratch your head. Here is a cold blooded murderer and yet Basu shows a rare human side to him. No, there is no glorification of the dreaded don, but the bearded Basu uses Duryodhan’s analogy to sum up the character. Some faithful believe that despite his sins, the Kaurav king Duryodhan [from the epic Mahabharata] was granted a place in heaven after he paid for his sins in hell.  Basu’s not advocating any mythology. Ludo downplays all such myth as it believes that is an individual alone who makes his/her life heaven or hell on this very earth. Sattu is like a cat with nine lives. He has cheated death six times, and he lives up to his stellar image each time. But there is hell to pay on this earth.

Keeping in with the heaven or hell belief, well many have a choice, but millions are simply slave to the dance of destiny.  Fittingly, Basu uses legendary singer, composer C Ramchandra and lyricist Rajendra Krishan’s Qismat Ki Hawa Kabhi Naram Kabhi Garam track from actor, director Bhagwan Dada’s Albela [1951] to sum up LIFE. There are times when winds of destiny will blow in your favour, and times when the tide will turn against you.

Basu’s characters display hurt, love, greed. Fatima Sana Shaikh sweeps you off your feet with her character. All along, Pinky saw Aalu [Rajkummar Rao] as an all-weather friend who will continue to bail her out of every mess. This even after she broke her heart and opted to marry a wealthy businessman Manohar Jain [Paritosh Tripathi].  Shaikh has this baby-face, sobbing look throughout the tough phase, but then she doesn’t shy from blaming Aalu each time when things don’t go as planned.  Shaikh pulls off the two shades with elan.  After showing promise in Dangal [2016], Shaikh flattered to deceive in Thugs of Hindostan [2018]. She finds her calling as Pinky. Shaikh makes you adore her innocence, baulk at her self -centred attitude in times of despair. Yet you can’t take your eyes off the lady. She aces the small town accent [Uttar Pradesh or Bihar] and regales in the apathy of Pinky.

Rajkummar Rao was a revelation as the saree salesman in Bareilly Ki Barfi [2017]. He’s picked up a similar accent in few subsequent films and there is a genuine fear of the talented actor being labelled one dimensional. Rao carries a similar accent, but there is much more to Alok Kumar Gupta. The die-hard Mithun Chakraborty fan enthrals you with the Disco Dancer [1982] actor’s hair style, dance moves.  Aalu is far from perfect in his impersonations, but therein lies the reality. In trying to be someone else, we often forget to bring out our individuality. May be, that was the reason why Pinky dumped him.  Rao is a bit overbearing at times, but that’s the nature of his character.

Fatima Sana Shaikh’s Dangal sibling Sanya Malhotra discovers the material girl in her. Feminists would loathe a woman being called a material girl, but Shruti summarises the character aptly in a fit a rage, “What can I do about this? This is the way we [girls] have been brought up since childhood. We are made to study, groomed to one day becoming a bride of a rich groom,”. Don’t blame Shruti, but the society that we live in.

If not her Hindi, but Malayalee VJ, actor Pearle Maaney finds her feet in her maiden Hindi film as the day dreamer nurse Sheeja Thomas.  It’s not her words but Maaney charms you with her worried expressions and bold actions.  Sheeja strikes an instant chord with this reviewer. We share a birthday [30 November] and much like the Malayalee nurse, your reviewer too is a day dreamer but cursed by thin pockets.

Inayat Verma

Pankaj Tripathi, Abhishek Bachchan are fairly competent in their acts.  The one who delights us the most is child artiste Inayat Verma. The cherubic kid first showed her talent in the TV reality show India’s Best Dramebaaz. Verma shows maturity way above her age but never loses her innocence. The tiny angel warms your heart. It’s fair to say that it is not just the viewers, but she leaves Abhishek Bachchan startled too with her confidence, talent. Jeez, you always wish that such child artistes never grow up.  

Ishtiyak Arif Khan is hilarious as the goofy cop Sinha, burdened by the high crimes, complaints in the city.

Much like his flagging career, Aditya Roy Kapur struggles with this act too. It would be unfair to call him the weak link here, but Kapur’s effort pales in comparison to the convincing acts by his co-actors.  Save for the odd rushed writing, Ludo has a fairly engaging screenplay. Dark comedy with ensemble cast and intertwining stories is no novel concept, but Ludo is perhaps the most convincing film in this genre (in Hindi cinema) in the modern era.

Samrat Chakraborty backs Basu’s screenplay with engaging dialogues. Interestingly, we struggled to locate where the film is set.  Basu deliberately teases the audiences as he doesn’t give away the location. The technique of watching number plates of vehicles to determine the location, too, doesn’t work for the few vehicle number plates in the film read as L U D O XX.  Based on some accents, we can presume the film to be set in Uttar Pradesh or one of the thriving cities in central India.  Is this a creative call or perhaps fear of backlash from a small town being labelled as a crime hub? Only Anurag Basu can answer that. The diverse accents though embody the culture in any metropolitan city.

The filmmaker chips in as a cinematographer for the first time.  Much like Barfi! [2012] and Jagga Jasoos [2017], Basu’s films are rich in production design and color. The chase sequence in narrow streets, Abhishek Bachahan and Inayat Verma’s  child play in yellow fields, walk through river bank is beautifully captured.  What ails Ludo though is the surprisingly underwhelming score by Pritam. Well, he’s only human though.

Netflix doesn’t have a great track record of producing Hindi original films. As C Ramchandra, Rajendra Krishan’s classic song goes, “Qismat Ki Hawa Kabhi Naram Kabhi Garam”. After feeling the heat due to some disappointed content, Anurag Basu’s Ludo will feel like a breath of fresh air to Netflix.  Go ‘play’ it.

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