'Ludo' review: A drawn out game with some excellent players
Anurag Basu’s ensemble comedy rolls out the laughs and some great acts, but the game could have been cut short
Is life as random as a game of Ludo? Are we all mere dice to be thrown around at the mercy of a superpower? Anurag Basu’s ensemble dark comedy Ludo that dropped on Netflix today will have you ruminating over that and more as it takes you on a quirky two-and-a-half hour ride through the lives of a divergent set of characters. From the lovelorn dhaba owner Alok Kumar Gupta (Rajkummar Rao) pining for his childhood sweetheart, the vulnerable/manipulative, Pinky Jain, (Fatima Sana Shaikh) to the laid-back ventriloquist and voice over artist Akash Chauhan (Aditya Roy Kapur), and the surly goon-turned-family man, Bittu Bhai (Abhishek Bachchan) Basu’s landscape is sprinkled with colourful personalities. Local gangster Rahul Satyendra Tripathi aka Sattu Bhai (Pankaj Tripathi) is the common thread bringing these diverse characters together on a kaleidoscopic collision course, through which many philosophical life lessons are imparted. Does it work?
The characters are fleshed out well enough and the humour is so biting that there is never a dull moment during the initial proceedings. The ride might get a bit slow paced in the latter half of the movie, but the exemplary casting works well to ensure each character stands apart in our mind. The weakest story among all of them might be the romance between the Malayali nurse Sheeja Thomas (Pearle Maaney) and mall salesman Rahul (a sullen looking Rohit Saraf). But that might be more due to her character's lack of English and Hindi-speaking skills; she and her partner are left to pantomime their way through most of the film. To Basu’s credit when Sheeja speaks, she has a spot on accent that gives authenticity to her Malayali nurse trope. Child actor Inayat Verma is able to convey the angst of a neglected child without overacting or getting too cutesy; she and Bachchan share a bond that’s endearing to watch on screen, though the senior actor’s brooding intense look is getting a bit repetitive seeing as we have been privy to it in Raavan, Breathe 2 and other projects. As the disarmingly sweet and laid-back youth with no particular drive in life, Aditya Roy Kapur keeps to the script and Sanya Malhotra is well cast opposite him as the effervescent practical girl-about-town Shruthi Choksi in the market for the right matrimonial catch.
The one who truly stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast is however Rao who lights up the screen as Aaloo, the self-acknowledged ‘second-hand Mithun’ with his floppy 80s hair and heeled boots, with a penchant for breaking into awkward dance moves when the situation gets too dramatic for him to handle. Watching him come alive spontaneously every time he walks into the screen is a delight and one of the highlights of Ludo. Tripathi sheds his gritty, intense Mirzapur persona to play the local gangster with a certain swagger and a whole lot of humour that is endearing. His old-school romance with nurse Latha Kutty (Shalini Vasta in another great casting) and their cracking offbeat chemistry enlivens the proceedings.
Pritam infuses the whole movie with a melodious soundtrack - and Bhagwan Dada’s O Beta Ji song from Albela gives it a nostalgic feel as well as aptly alludes to the quirks of fate - the central theme of the movie. The song is so catchy you’ll find yourself humming it much after the movie is over. The writing (Basu and Samrat Chakraborty) is brilliant in many parts with each character described in the most amusing manner. So you have Alok Kumar Gupta who is also know as Aaloo because, like the humble potato, he is someone who can be used in every dish or Akash Chauhan who is described as so old-school that its akin to sending a love letter inside a book in this Tinder age.
Ludo in the end works well because of excellent casting - the four stories are as varied as they come and the ending scene is reminiscent of a Western spaghetti with guns blazing, music playing and slow-mo moves that makes it classic gold. The story through can seem a bit drawn out and was Anurag Basu’s cameo just a tad self-indulgent for a movie packed to the brim with colourful personalities? Also the messaging about the truth about life, the good vs evil conflict and about death being the only reality of life are all thrown at us rather didactically as if Basu wanted the last word in and wasn’t content to just let the message seep in subtly.
Director: Anurag Basu
Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Abhishek Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao, Aditya Roy Kapur, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Inayat Verma, Pearle Maaney, Rohit Saraf, Shalini Vatsa
Rating: 3 out of 5