Casting director-turned-filmmaker Honey Trehan says his directorial debut Raat Akeli Hai uses elements of a murder mystery to drive a more important point home: patriarchy.
Set in north India, the crime thriller follows Jatil Yadav, a small town cop (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who is summoned to investigate the death of a politician.
Trehan, who is known for films like Talvar, Udta Punjab and Delhi Belly, said patriarchy is a “curse” on society. “The murder mystery, crime thriller and whodunit are just the device I have used. My film is about patriarchy which is a curse under which we all are living. More than us, patriarchy is a living character in society. Everyone of us will go one day, but patriarchy has been here since ages. Nobody knows when it will end,” he told PTI.
Trehan said through his film, he has explored how it is possible to outgrow one’s patriarchal upbringing and that’s the dilemma his protagonist wrestles with.
“You come at a stage when you are able to make your own decisions, that’s when you need to make a choice – do you still want to stay inside a shell or you want to come out?” the debutant director added.
A trend seems to have emerged in Hindi film industry where casting directors are either heading to acting like Paatal Lok star Abhishek Banerjee or making directorial debut – Mukesh Chhabra with the recently released Dil Bechara. Trehan, who directed theatre plays in Delhi before coming to Mumbai in the 2000s, said he came to the city of dreams to become a film director.
He then joined music composer-director Vishal Bhardwaj, who was going to make his directorial debut with Barf. The film never happened.
Trehan said they stayed in touch and then went on to work assistant director in Bhardwaj’s first film Makdee in 2002. “When the script was being written, Vishal sir would often ask me to take care of the actors and characters. That’s how I sort of started doing the casting as well. He was graceful enough to give me credit apart from being his assistant. I stayed with him for 15 years.”
He said though casting helped him stay afloat in Bollywood, his heart was always set on direction.
“Whenever I used to have free time, I used to take up these casting assignments, which was great for my survival here. But direction was always there. I also directed second unit for Abhishek Chaubey’s ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ and ‘Udta Punjab’.”
Raat Akeli Hai draws its name from the popular number from the 1967 hit film “Jewel Thief” and it is the film’s writer Smita Singh of “Sacred Games” fame who came up with the title.
“Smita is such a fabulous human being and writer. It is also her first film as a writer. I am fortunate to have her on my first film,” he added.
Trehan described the film as noir, which plays a lot on the mood with elements of rain, fire and shadow play. “Night plays a very important role in the film, and night can have different moods – it can be very dark, it can also be poetic. I was not even thinking that it will relate with the song. I always wanted to have this title for the film.”
Raat Akeli Hai is set in a small town of Uttar Pradesh and Trehan, who spent a considerable amount of time in Allahabad, said he decided to base the film in north India as believed he could do “justice to this milieu”. “I know this space very well. These characters and these problems with joint families I know. I spent a lot of time in Allahabad.”
Singh, the writer, comes from Bundelkhand, and most of the cast Aditya Shrivastava, Munna Raja and Tigmanshu Dhulia hail from Allahabad, and Shweta Tripathi is from Lucknow.
Lead actor Siddiqui is from Budhana, Muzaffarnagar, and Shridhar Dubey and Riya Shukla are from Kanpur. “They easily became their characters as they already had at least the characteristic of a UP person. Rest is just delivering the lines which is an easier job,” Trehan added.
Under lockdown, the director said he is working on two-three scripts with his writing team.
“This pandemic was unprecedented. I think we should try to take it positively. If we take this crisis negatively, it will disturb us further. We should try to get to know more about ourselves. We need to take some time to pause. Nobody wants such a time in their lives but it is what it is. We should help those in need. This is the time to connect.”
Also featuring Radhika Apte, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Nishant Dahiya, Ila Arun, and Swanand Kirkire, Raat Akeli Hai premiered on Netflix on Friday.