Andhadhun (2018): The Beauty of Focalization
//Spoilers, I strongly recommend watching the movie first//
When Simi visits Aakash at his flat, there is constant tension as she, he, and the audience are all aware that her intentions are vicious. Yet he ought to keep up his act. He must keep his steps as calm as he must the sound of his probably thumping heart. There are no reactions. Reactions are left for the audience and there is nothing but satirical tension on screen.
As Aakash prepares the coffee in his kitchen, the camera pans (does not cut) to follow his gaze towards Simi, suddenly appearing into the frame wearing a Scream mask that is just as hysterical as it is frightening to incite a reaction. The shock felt by a viewer must be supremely worse for Aakash, but he is forced to maintain his composure. This particularly hilarious scene reflects the constant contrast between the absurdity of the events unfolding before Aakash and his compulsorily passive exterior. The contrast makes the film a masterpiece.
Aakash (Ayushmann Khurrana) is an aspiring pianist who tests a hypothesis that his ability to generate auditory creativity can be enhanced by depriving himself of sight. He is blind at will, using removable dark-lenses. Incredible circumstances cause him to get involved in a murder case (or a few). To the crime he is blind, but he knows he's the only witness.
This movie is made up entirely of compelling conflict. It is easy to fall into shambles while writing a plot twist every couple of minutes but this film holds itself together. There is not a single dull moment. The plot is not ridiculed with carelessness or incongruent stories, Aakash has the sharpest wits. He comes up with a valid story about his cat when he's caught reporting a murder, and the cat's timely appearance saves him. His luck is entirely terrible except when it isn't wholly fantastic. He exits a tough situation just as rapidly as he enters one, until he finds himself in another even worse. He's unfortunate to land a saviour such as Maushi, but is lucky to have seen her Bholenaat tattoo before. His razor wits save him again.
What makes the film so exciting is Aakash's focalisation, executed not only with the cinematography but also the masterful sound design. In the kitchen scene mentioned, the shot pans with Aakash's gaze and the unconventional music is drawn out showing his terrified exasperation. The focalization is beautiful because absurdities are just as shocking to us as they are to him, and it is an important tool for expression because on screen we see nothing more than minute gulping or rugged breathing.
When Aakash wakes up with blindness and flushes his head, the senses feel like all is slowed down in the water. The sound is muted, and Aakash opens his eyes revealing the damaged pupils. It is a beautifully haunting revelation. The night after, when he's about to be executed, he runs out on the street as the camera follows and circles him eliciting the disillusionment that comes with his new-found blindness. Post-blindness we have many instances, like the final car crash, where the audio comes before the visuals, appropriate from the blind perspective. In another scene with a death in the elevator, there is no visual at all. The plot is moved forward with only audio, a neat trick to heighten the auditory insight while avoiding the complex shooting for the scene. It is straight forward and funny how another character is so easily disposed of.
The use of classical music, since this is the story of a pianist, is a refreshing and something I haven't seen much in recent Hindi films. The music Aakash plays is also another manifestation of his feelings. The racing of his heart takes the sound of fast, nervous, minor notes. The crime scene is focalized flawlessly, from the camera angles to the happy music - comedic at first - which then turns melancholic as he realises his state.
It's interesting how characters come and go so frequently but none of them seem to have an insignificant role. Sophie, (Radhika Apte) does not appear after the first half until the very end. This is the one opportunity where we find Aakash telling a story, without experiencing it ourselves. Sophie tells Aakash he should've taken Simi's eyes, and he smiles and walks away. Is that a yes? No? The ending that Aakash narrates to Sophie involving Simi's death is possibly made up. He couldn't have known in such detail what happened since he was blind. Yes, it's possible that he heard the sounds and theorised the death putting two and two together. But it is also possible that he accepted Doc's offer and took Simi's eyes, and perhaps even killed Doc to get the complete profit. He moves away, returning to his "experiment", reaping the comfort of pretend-blindness. Why I should think that is, of course, because of the final tin can shot: a naughty little trick, messing with us and leaving me conjecturing.
If there is one pessimistic lesson in this film it's that some people can never, under any circumstances, be trusted. There are some like Simi, who never stop being deviously evil, and there is Aakash, who recovers with a mischievous manoeuvre. The final scene put an end to all the pity I accumulated for him throughout the movie replacing it with a sly, satisfied grin.