Indian filmmaker Anurag Basu tries to pull off a Quentin Tarantino in his latest film “Ludo”. He co-produces, co-cinematographs, writes and directs an ensemble cast, and plays a prominent cameo. Also in the blueprint of Tarantino movies, Ludo has a nonlinear storyline, aestheticizes violence, and has a soundtrack that is a mixtape of various genres—with a classic Bollywood song repeatedly used as motif—and sheer unpredictability.
But is Ludo going to be a cult classic like “Pulp Fiction” or “Jackie Brown”? Only time will tell. The response so far has been promising for this toned-down action, crime-comedy movie.
As in a game of Ludo—a variant of Pachisi that originated in India—the movie Ludo has four different players. Akash Chauhan (Aditya Roy Kapur) apparently has a PhD in Arts but works as a small-time voice-over artist and ventriloquist. One day, he finds there’s a sex video of him circulating on the internet. His partner in the video, Shruti Choksi (Sanya Malhotra), is about to get married to someone else. Akash sets out to make it right to save Shruti’s marriage.
Alok Kumar “Alu” Gupta (Rajkummar Rao) is a conman turned dhaba-owner who’s still in love with his childhood crush Pinky Jain (Fatima Sana Shaikh). But for Pinky, he’s just a friend who helps her whenever she is in trouble. Pinky is married and has a child with Manohar (Paritosh Tripathi). When Manohar is taken into custody as a murder-accused, Pinky asks Alok for help again. And again, Alok decides to get her out of trouble, even at the cost of losing everything he owns.
Then there is Batukeshwar “Bittu” Tiwari (Abhishek Bachchan) who’s just out of the slammer after serving a six-year attempt-to-murder sentence and wants to get back to normal life with his wife Asha (Asha Negi) and daughter Ruhi. The fourth player, or players, are salesboy Rahul Awasthi (Rohit Suresh Saraf) and nurse Sheeja Thomas (Pearle Maaney)—two strangers who by chance come across a million-rupee in cash and become partners in crime.
All four players in Ludo get entangled with each other and are moved around by Rahul Satyendra “Sattu Bhaiya” Tripathi (Pankaj Tripathi) who seems to be the metaphorical dice in the movie. Had Anurag Basu stuck to the four players and their interactions with each other, all being dominated by how the dice (Saatu Bhaiya) rolls, the movie would have had a faster pace and steadier momentum. But Basu spoils his own broth with too many sub-plots that make Ludo seem more like snakes and ladders. The movie’s length of 2hrs 29mins also gets lousy at times, only proving that Mr Basu is no Tarantino—not yet.
Otherwise, everything else about the movie exudes brilliance. Acting is almost flawless, probably because of the cast of talented actors, and because individual screen time is too short for the characters to goof up. The script, despite indulging in multiple storylines, is nonetheless intact till the end where the climax waits with a few surprises and a revelation.
But if anything needs to be applauded, it has to be the cinematography. Basu, with fellow cinematographer Rajesh Shukla, creates magical moments with camerawork and lighting. The colors of Ludo board game are carefully assigned to Akash (yellow), Alok (green), Bittu (red) and Rahul-Sheeja (yellow). These color schemes appear onscreen whenever the respective characters are showcased, sometimes subtly and sometimes very noticeably. Camera angles and lighting set an uncanny mood, again mimicking Tarantino style.
Who should watch it?
Ludo is one of the best new releases on Netflix in the past few months, so why not? Especially, if you watched the recent disaster called Laxmii (Bomb). You definitely need to watch Ludo to get you out of coma.