It takes a very compelling idea to pull someone like me out of a writer’s block. It could be a beautiful Anurag Basu-film like Barfi (2012), which compels you to introspect human bonds and undermine the superficiality of language, or it could be in the form of an Anurag Basu-film like Ludo (2020), which compels you to throw away your laptop in frustration and beg to some superior entity to return those horrendous 150 minutes of your already-boring life. It almost seems as if Basu made this film to mock Ludo King, which saved hundreds of non-PUBG players during this lockdown. Dear reader, the views expressed here are extremely personal and this piece is definitely going to be a blatant haranguing of the film.
With a pretty boastable cast and crew including people who have been part of films that brought a new dimension to Hindi cinema, the general aura of Ludo seemed indeed very promising but the end product turned out to be an abysmal film that seemed to stretch on for eternity with a messy plot that fabulously failed at achieving its aim of being a good hyperlink cinema.
The hyperlink narrative form has been a tried and tested phenomena in cinema, with films like Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (2000) and the more recent Super Deluxe (2019) directed by Thiagarajan Kumararaja, which I personally found to be quite brilliantly crafted, being successful examples that employed this feature. In its intention to traverse along the same lines, Ludo forgets its mission of being an engaging film, especially with its taxing runtime.
The film tries to overachieve in its task of narrating multiple stories and bringing to the fore several characters from varying facets of the society. In doing so, instead of developing a story-line that links all their stories, it ends up being a mushy mess of a plot that ambitiously tries to say a lot but doesn’t really have much to say. We’ve got goons, young love, old love, unrequited love, parental love, silent love, goons falling in love, affairs, gunshots, explosions, accidents, sex-tapes and Rajkummar Rao in full-on Midhun Chakraborty-style. Everything just seems very random and every time I tried to make sense of the relation between the characters, I lost a piece of my sanity.
There’s a parallel framing narrative running where two men dressed in black and white and befitting pairs of shades are playing ludo. They discuss life, death, virtue, sins and mythology and basically elaborate the game of ludo as a metaphor for the game of life. Their identities are kept hidden until the end of the movie, and frankly, the reveal didn’t really make much of a difference to me. One of these men is played by foreman Basu himself, with a mysterious look and a beard so evidently fake that I was worried it would fall off every time he came on screen and take his entire face down with it.
Having said that, the film takes the idea of the ludo game a tad too seriously, with the characters placed in color-coordinated entries and settings according to their respective tokens (yes, they’re assigned respective tokens). So Rajkummar Rao wears a green shirt while Sanya Malhotra drives a yellow car. Also, the numberplates of the cars in the movie followed the pattern ‘LUDOxxx’. I’m just going to leave that there.
The music of Ludo has been scored by Pritam. Infamous and often compared to Anu Malik for copying melodies, we see a new side of Pritam with this film. The music of Ludo are familiar tunes, which he seems to have ripped off from his own previous songs for a change and they often seem intrusive along with the already-boring storyline. Nothing really happens during the songs, you could actually take bathroom breaks if you want (you will, trust me).
Half an hour into the movie I expected some kind of development in the characters of Pankaj Tripathi and Rajkummar Rao to save the sinking game. When nobody’s tokens seemed to reach home, Abhishek Bacchan’s cute plot with the little child was a bit relieving to watch, with a few Barfi-esque moments here and there. The rest of the stories seem half-baked, with a lot of things happening but not really furthering the progress of the movie. Because of such underwritten characters, the actors seemed to be fussing around in uncertainty; even Rajkummar Rao’s Midhun-da moves turned futile in engaging my attention after the first twenty minutes. Also, how come nobody is talking about how casually the line “har aurat ke andar ek veshya chupi hui hoti hai” was inserted in the film?
Ludo ambitiously tries to create a genuine philosophical conversation about the ideas of karma and dharma but ends up digging more and more mess, much like life in general. I would have been convinced that this was a clever strategical move to further explain the mystery that life is, had the film not forced the two halves of my brain to dissect each other simultaneously. Indeed, “life is ludo and ludo is life”, except there are more interesting games out there for us to play.