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20 Indian Murder Mystery Movies That Keep The Viewers Hooked

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20 Indian Murder Mystery Movies: Genre cinema can be incredibly transgressive. Like termite art, they mutely chew on the boundaries of conformation. In horror, courtroom drama, noir, murder mysteries, and many more, the director is paramount for these films. How they treat it saves a good genre film from being generic, which most certainly holds true for murder mysteries. Plots in these films are like the foundation, invisible, and pretty similar in nature. However, the material used to construct the building on this foundation is the treatment. The foundation can and should be strong enough to hold the building, but what the audience would buy is the building.




 

The functionality of atmosphere, mood, pace, suspense, cinematography, lighting, and brain-teasing tension plays a much larger part in a murder mystery. Without these, we just have a story where we’re waiting for the big reveal. More often than not, the lack of slick treatment gives us a generic mystery. Murder on The Oriental Express, Te3n, Kahaani 2, Malang, Ek Villain, and the list goes on. But, the experience is nothing short of exhilarating whenever we get everything right.




   

Here, I’m trying to bring together an assortment of Indian murder mystery movies across eras, which I really enjoyed. These are not thrillers but actual whodunnit murder mysteries. You might disagree with the list, but let me know your thoughts.

20. Gumnaam (1965) (Dir. Raja Nawathe) (Hindi)

indian murder mysteries 01 Gumnaam

A holiday goes wrong when a group of young people is invited to spend a weekend on a deserted island; when they arrive, there is no sign of the host or the island’s owner, and the following morning, one of the groups is found dead. As deaths continue to rise, the mystery continues to deepen. Gumnaam was one of the early few mystery-slash-thriller films from Bollywood. Based on Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel, ‘And Then There Were None,’ the film remains a solid murder mystery even after more than five decades. This multi-starrer film includes Manoj Kumar, Nanda, Mehmood, Pran, Helen & Madan Puri, among others. Such was the popularity of Mehmood at the time that he got paid more than Manoj Kumar & Nanda, which led to an alleged cold war between them.




 

There’s an eeriness that surrounds the film right from the word go. The atmosphere, background score, and hazy reality of the characters will suck you in. The script mostly stays true to the novel, barring, of course, the songs and dances. As much as these song & dance routines reduced the tension & distracted the audience, there’s no way you can not fall in love with them, especially the most sensational dance number ever to open a serial killer movie, “Jaan Pehchaan Ho”! This song has captured the English-speaking audience in a big way, with multiple covers, sampling, and remixes over the years, even used in the opening credits of Ghost World (2001) and the 2011 commercial The Date for Heineken.

Never mind the plot holes and continuity issues; if you love 60s kitsch, a potent mystery, and the adorable Helen, you cannot miss Gumnaam. Watch the songs on YouTube, and they are fun on their own




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19. Gupt (1997) (Dir. Rajiv Rai) (Hindi)

indian murder mysteries 02 Gupt

Well, you were not expecting a list of Indian murder mystery movies without Gupt, right? If you are the 80s or a 90s kid and were in age to be slightly aware of things during its release, you know the mass hysteria this film had created. Everyone was talking about the climax. Sahil Sinha (Bobby Deol) is in love with Isha (Kajol) and wants to marry her. However, his tyrannical step-father, Jaisingh (Raj Babbar), insists that he marry the girl he has hand-picked. After a lousy argument erupts between them, Jaisingh turns up dead. Sahil, who is viewed as the prime suspect, is arrested and put on trial for murder and ends up receiving a life sentence in jail. To prove his innocence, Sahil manages to escape prison and looks for the real killer.




What could have been a typical 90s potboiler Hindi film was saved by its big reveal and the blockbuster music. If you haven’t seen or heard about the climax, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Director Rajiv Rai was a little hesitant while writing Gupt. He wasn’t confident about actually making this a compelling murder mystery. In London, he went for an Agatha Christie play, “Mousetrap,” with his actress wife, Sonam, and a few friends. He told Sonam that he would not make the film if he couldn’t guess the killer before the play ended. During the interval, everybody was guessing the killer. Rajiv picked a character that no one else did, which turned out to be the real killer in the play! That’s when he knew he understood the art of writing a murder mystery & would be able to direct an effective suspense film.

Apart from the big reveal, another film highlight was its insanely gorgeous soundtrack. Each song & the background score were highly plagiarized, but you just can’t stop loving it! Of course, Gupt has a stamp of the 90s, there are MANY glaring flaws, stretched screenplay, and over-dramatic situations, but if you enjoy a well-made good-old masala Hindi film like me, it’s a must-watch. I miss those movies, and there was a certain ingenuousness and charm in them.




18. Ratchasan (2018) (Dir. Ram Kumar) (Tamil)

indian murder mysteries 03 Raatchasan

Arun (Vishnu Vishal) gives up on his dream of becoming a filmmaker and takes up the job of a police officer after his father’s death. He then attempts to track down a psychotic killer who targets schoolgirls, and his film obsession greatly helps him in it. Sadly, after the script was completed, writer & director Ram Kumar was initially struggling to find an actor who would be ready to play the lead, a 40-year-old man with a child. Surrendering to the diktat of our film industry, he removed the child from the script & added a niece instead. Even after the lead character’s age was reduced, no actor was ready because of the genre – murder mystery. However, all is well if it ends well. Kumar eventually found his lead, and we finally got Ratsasan.




Personally, some things didn’t work for me in Ratsasan. Perhaps because I read the glorious reviews before watching it, this highly acclaimed film has got many remakes (the latest being Cuttputli with Akshay Kumar). Still, the unnecessary songs, & implausible, and jarringly over melodramatic climax felt out of place to me. What kept me invested was the superb emotional reach of each character. The characters made you care, root for them, feel for them, and want to know about their lives. Except for songs, the film never loses its pace; it has an otherwise crisp, structured script and an engaging screenplay.

The film didn’t disappoint me as much as the reviews did. If you can turn a blind eye to a few convenient coincidences, the bulk of Ratsasan works. It’s an intense, brain-teasing mystery that could do with some length trimming.




 

Related List: 10 Great Tamil Movies You Can Watch On Netflix

17. Ittefaq (1969) (Dir. Yash Chopra) (Hindi)

indian murder mysteries 04 Ittefaq

There was a time when Yash Chopra used to be one of my favorite directors. The audacity to choose subjects at varying stages of his career totally bowled me. His range was phenomenal, from a disaster drama (Waqt, 1965) to a film about partition & Hindu fundamentalism (Dharmputra, 1961), to a film about coal mine workers (Kaala Patthar, 1979), to a songless murder mystery, Ittefaq! Only post-Chandni (1989), I started to lose my respect for him as a filmmaker.

Coming back to Ittefaq, it indeed was a pathbreaking film for Indian cinema in more than one way. Shot primarily on one set with limited characters, no songs, just more than 100-mins long and no interval, it was an unprecedented moment for Hindi cinema. And the legacy of Ittefaq continues with RGV’s Kaun? (also on the list), and a remake of the same name with Sonakshi Sinha, Akshaye Khanna & Siddharth Malhotra in 2017.




Dilip Roy (Rajesh Khanna) is a painter who is accused of killing his wife. Declared mentally unstable, he spent days in an asylum before escaping and seeking refuge in Rekha’s (Nanda) home. It took place almost entirely over one stormy night, based on the English film Signpost to Murder (1964). When the production of Yash Chopra’s big budget film, Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969), had stopped because its heroine Saira Banu was having surgery, he wanted to make an inexpensive quickie film. That’s how Ittefaq was born. The screenplay was written in 7 days, shot in 28 days, and released within three months – again, something unprecedented for Hindi cinema.

The film belongs to Nanda. A lonely wife, a seductress, and a terrified hostage, she maneuvered every vulnerability with nuanced control and conviction. Rajesh Khanna on the other hand, was a hamfest. He struggled with a role that seemed to be too demanding for him. With no sub-plots or comedy or songs or a 3-hour runtime, the crisp script, and highly stylized direction, Ittefaq never lets the audience take a break from the perpetual tension. The climax blew everyone’s mind away with the reveal, but it operated too much on convenience. Nonetheless, the film still holds up after over five decades.




 

16. 100 Days (1991) (Dir.Partho Ghosh) (Hindi)

indian murder mysteries 06 100 Days

What if I tell you there’s a well-balanced and intelligent murder mystery in Hindi from the 90s? A quintessential Bollywood film with chartbuster songs, a love triangle, comedy, big stars, and a genuinely gripping mystery? Sounds like a dream, right? Well, 100 Days is that dream come true. Inspired by Sette note in Nero (1977), the film traces Devi (exceptional Madhuri Dixit), a woman with extrasensory perception who has a vision of her sister getting murdered. After her sister goes missing, she tracks the clues to identify the murderer.




Unlike many movies where you can guess the murderer, this one actually messes with your head. Though occasionally schizophrenic, 100 Days is tightly focused. The romance, comedy, song & dancing all seem intrinsic to the film (even if it’s not) and not just the padding. That was director Partho Ghosh’s brilliance. Performances are good throughout. Like always, Madhuri does the heavy lifting by tying the threads together, but she got great help from Jackie Shroff and the criminally underrated Jaaved Jaaferi. Initially, Javed Jaffery & Neelam were to play the leads, but when the script went to Jackie Shroff, he came on board along with Madhuri, while Javed played the supporting role. 

100 Days wouldn’t be half as fascinating as it is if it wasn’t for the film’s various moods. Unfortunately, we’re now getting away (even embarrassed about) from the unique proposition that a typical Bollywood film is. No film industry in the world has the strength of mixing multiple genres, songs, and dances in one film. Instead of altogether shunning it, we should have found more organic & effective ways to incorporate all these elements in our movies. Anyway, coming back to 100 Days, if you are a fan of a quintessential Hindi film, you will love this taut thriller.




 

15. Teesri Manzil (1966) (Dir. Vijay Anand) (Hindi)

indian murder mysteries 07 Teesri manzil

Vijay Anand is one of India’s trailblazing and most original filmmakers, at least for me. He has directed about 16 films, but specifically, his four phenomenal films in six years synthesized his cult for fans like me – Guide (1965), Teesri Manzil (1966), Jewel Thief (1967), and Johny Mera Naam (1970). Teesri Manzil is a sharp whodunnit that doesn’t waste time pulling you in. Even before the opening credits are over, we have a dead body and a searing mystery with a suspect. After her sister commits suicide, Sunita (Asha Parekh) blames the drummer, Rocky (deliciously loose, Shammi Kapoor), for her death. She decides to seek revenge against him but later finds out that her sister was murdered.




If you can sit through some lame comedy and harebrained sub-plots, you’re in for a delightfully creepy genre film. And, if the mystery doesn’t grip you, the music will. RD Burman created music that was unprecedented in Hindi cinema. Easily one of the best Indian film soundtracks ever. With every character eavesdropping, overhearing, watching, and stalking, voyeurism unknowingly becomes the implication of Teesri Manzil. It’s a world of shadows where even love cannot be trusted. Vijay Anand’s highly stylized signature prints are all over the film, even though he didn’t write the script. The incredibly majestic song picturization and shot-taking make Teesri Manzil way ahead of its time. Imagine a shot where the audience can see two characters through a revolver!

Released over five decades ago, Teesri Manzil might not appeal to many now, and the whodunnit purists will undoubtedly frown upon it, but I’ll still strongly recommend this one. Easily one of the most gripping Indian murder mystery movies of all time.




14. U-Turn (2016/ 2018) (Dir. Pawan Kumar) (Kannada/ Telugu/ Tamil)

indian murder mysteries 08 U Turn

A young female reporter tries to uncover the truth behind the deaths of road rules offenders, only to become the prime suspect in the investigation. How often do you get to see an effective thriller-slash-horror-slash-murder mystery based on traffic rules? For me, U-Turn was the first. Director Pawan Kumar made the original U-Turn (2016) in Kannada with Shraddha Srinath as the lead (winning her the Filmfare Best Actress Award). The day the film’s trailer was out, he got a call from Samantha Prabhu, keen on a Telugu remake. Disappointed with not being able to shoot many scenes for his original version due to a financial crunch, Pawan thought it would be a great opportunity to fix all shortcomings in the remake. With Samantha attached to the project, of course, the budget went up multifold.




The bilingual remake wasn’t as successful at the box office as the original but was loved by the critics and gained a cult status eventually. The last 30-mins are different in the remake. U-Turn has a clever storyline that harps on karma, but the wobbly second half threatens to derail the film. The supernatural element is revealed too early in the film; by then, you already know the culprit. But having said that, this densely-textured film gets most of its twists spot on, and performances from principals are superlative. It may not be a regular whodunnit, but U-Turn is an engaging watch that works like a crime novel – you can’t sleep without finishing it. Watch both or any version; they’re equally satisfying.




13. Baishe Srabon (2011) (Dir. Srijit Mukherji) (Bengali)

indian murder mysteries 05 Baishe Srabon

I’ve always had a love & hate relationship with Bengali cinema and its filmmakers. We sometimes can’t get enough of each other and can’t stand one another. Thankfully,  Baishe Srabon falls under the former. The film centers on two journalists and two police officers (one suspended) chasing a vengeful psychopath who leaves behind couplets from Bengali poems. The basic plot is inspired by films like Se7en (1995), Righteous Kill (2008), and The Recruit (2003), but director Srijit Mukherji has sprinkled enough Bengali-ness in it to keep it fresh. Rabindranath’s poems, the lesser-known Hungry Movement of the 60s in Kolkata, and many such references make it a very ‘Bengali’ film, if you know what I mean.




 

Baishe Srabon turned out to be one of the highest-grossing Bengali films of 2011 and brought back the thriller genre to Bengali cinema. The context is perpetually changing throughout its 140-min runtime, and you have to keep up with it continuously. The film focuses on the nihilistic stare of this perishing world while enunciating the freedom of expression and the grace of poetry. The film vehemently underlines a world where writers aren’t allowed to write, where Bukowskis cannot scream loud enough, and the spectrum of literature is not allowed to be explored. It sounds like India of 2022, doesn’t it? Performances are solid across the board, but Gautam Ghose’s heartbreaking portrayal will haunt you long after.

Baishe Srabon, is obnoxious, apposite, mind-bending, thrilling, and even treacherous, all at once. It’s a zippy ride and one of the better murder mysteries to come out of India.




Related Read: 10 Essential Bengali Movies of the 2010s

12. Memories (2013) (Dir. Jeethu Joseph) (Malayalam)

indian murder mysteries 09 Memories

Commercial & critical success upon release, Memories has also gained a cult status over the years. Police officer Sam Alex (Prithviraj Sukumaran) becomes an alcoholic and takes an extended leave after his wife and daughter are murdered. His mother is concerned he may die and asks him to crack a case of a serial killer who hangs his victims from a cross. Director Jeethu Joseph has perfected the craft of creating atmospheric tension, Drishyam being another example. In Memories, he has constructed such a tensed, claustrophobic climate that you will desperately wait for the reveal. Even though the reveal comes in a tad too soon, and the film goes on for a good 30-mins after that, it never loses the stream and continues to be intensely enthralling.

Memories is certainly one of Jeethu Joseph & Prithvuraj’s best works and also, one of the finest Indian murder mystery movies. The film never divorces logic, though ample melodrama and Sam’s troubled past is a downer as the script spends too much time on it. The diversion slackens an otherwise well-conceived narrative. But, Jeethu’s skillful direction and the quasi-star-studded cast manage to keep you hooked. It’s a well-designed narrative, barring a few straying moments. Give it a try.




  

11. Anveshana (1985) (Dir. Vamsy) (Telugu)

indian murder mysteries 10 Anveshana

In a genre full of painfully terrible movies, Anveshana is a blessing! After Manchu Pallaki (1982) and Sitaara (1984), director Vamsy wanted to make a suspense film, his favorite genre since childhood. He cites Kannada film Aparichita (1978) and the European film Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971) as his inspiration for this film. 

Anveshana is a terrific murder mystery that follows an officer coming to a forest in disguise to investigate a series of killings, allegedly by a man-eating tiger in the woods. However, his findings reveal the truth about a sinister serial killer. Vamsy had an outline of the story. Even after working with several scriptwriters, he wasn’t happy. He then decided to write the story as a novel. The country was in unrest after Indira Gandhi’s assassination at the time, and all the shootings were canceled. He used this period to complete the novel and showed it to the producers, who liked it.




With the music maestro Ilayaraja, Vamsy went to Madurai to compose the music for Anveshana. Realizing that he had forgotten to carry the script, Vamsy narrated whatever he could remember from the script to Ilayaraja. But the genius that he is, Illayaraja composed such mellifluous music based on that broken narration that Vamsy eventually altered the script based on Ilayaraja’s tunes! The atmospheric tension with a layered story helped Anveshana achieve cult status almost immediately after its release. The creep factor builds up and keeps you guessing till the end. Apart from the irritating shrill screaming, the film is slick & very well shot. Of course, after almost four decades, you might find it cheesy at places and melodramatic at others, but Anveshana remains one of the best Indian murder mystery movies. It was a blockbuster, and Illayaraja’s music had A LOT to do with it.




 

10. Shubho Mahurat (2003) (Dir. Rituparno Ghosh) (Bengali)

indian murder mysteries 11 Shubho Mahurat

Unpopular opinion alert – I don’t like most of Rituparno Ghosh’s work. Of course, he had always been a trailblazer, always took on the roads less traveled, and kept pushing the envelope till his last breath, professionally and personally. But that has not always translated to the best art pieces, at least for me.




Now, since THAT opinion is out of the way, let me talk about one of his few films I actually loved, Shubho Mahurat. The film is based on Agatha Christie’s 1962 Miss Marple detective novel, ‘The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side.’ An aging actress (and a drug addict), Kakoli, is murdered after the film’s first shot (hence, the title) gets directed by the NRI producer’s husband. Mallika, a journalist, was taking her interview at the time of her death. Aided by her aunt, Mallika pursues the clues to uncover the killer. The film is flooded with charming ladies, Sharmila Tagore, Raakhee, Nandita Das & Kalyani Mandal. This was Raakhee’s swan song before she retired from acting and got the National Award for it too.

Agatha Christie novels never really translate into great whodunnits in film versions (there are enough proofs), but what Rituparno did with this one was very clever. He adroitly re-wrote many portions of the novel to Indian sensibility and maneuvered the film more towards the psychological route than the whodunnit. This supremely sharp move anchors the film. Shubho Mahurat is almost a two-decade-old film which amounts to the predictability in the plot if you’re going to watch it for the first time now, but that doesn’t take away the brilliance of its writing & performances. 

Not an edge-of-your-seat Indian murder mystery movie, but you must give it a try.




Related Content: 10 Essential Rituparno Ghosh Movies

9. Kaun? (1999) (Dir. Ram Gopal Varma) (Hindi)

Remember the good old days before RGV was diagnosed with delusion? Even his flop films used to be a masterclass in filmmaking (Mast, Daud, Jungle, Drohi, etc.). Remember when he used to team up with real talents (Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj, Gulzar, RD Burman, Manoj Bajpai)? Kaun? is a gem from THAT time capsule.




Kaun? is an Ittefaq-style songless, crisp suspense thriller that will keep you guessing till the big reveal. The film follows the unnamed central character, played by Urmila Matondkar, who is alone at home. On a stormy evening, an announcement is made on the television about a serial killer at large. Soon, she finds the doorbell ringing, and a stranger pleads to enter her home. Released over two decades ago, the film still holds the same lure even after the proverbial cat has been let out. Having said that, the film is not without its deficiencies. Otherwise tautly written by Anurag Kashyap, Kaun? It somewhat loses its stream in the first half. But, it more than makes up for it in the second, an amalgamation of dark humor and nail-biting tension.

Manoj Bajpai veers between a nerdy salesperson and a psychopath killer with aplomb. He truly is one of the finest actors in the world. Sushant Singh is as competent as ever. For me, the only letdown in this 3-actor film is Urmila. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of her acting, and she failed to impress me here, too, with over-the-top quivering lips and eyes wide with fear. For me, it is one of her many overrated performances. She did a far better job in RGV’s other thriller, Bhoot (2003). Kashyap & Varma conjures such a terrific build-up to a startling denouement that you are forced to ignore the plot’s loopholes—released in 1999, Kaun? It will always be ahead of its time and one of the best Indian murder mystery movies.




 

Related Read: 7 Important Urmila Matondkar Movies That Helped Shape Indian Cinema

8. Kavaludaari (2019) (Dir. Hemanth Rao) (Kannada)

Kavaludaari means crossroads, and director Hemanth Rao picked up the title because he firmly believes a police officer’s life is always at a crossroads. They are faced with truth and lies, life and death, personal and professional life. And this became the undercurrent of this brilliant murder mystery. The accidental discovery of human bones during a road-widening project leads a local traffic cop into the mystery of a 40-year-old case; his investigation leads him across trails that will put his wit, resolve, and morals to the test.




The film is a triumph of treatment over the plot. The treatment of any film can overshadow the plot holes and lazy writing. Fortunately, the writing in Kavaludaari is also smart. Scenes are broken into pieces and drizzle upon the plot throughout the film. So, whenever you go back to a scene, there is additional information. Another example of film’s conquering treatment is the usage of 8mm film to show the centerpiece – the murder. It’s also presented as a frame within a frame. It will remind you of Julia Robert’s magnificent Amazon series, Homecoming (2018), where two timelines are presented in different aspect ratios. Masterstroke!

DoP Advaitha Gurumurthy gives us many God’s-eye view shots of Bengaluru. This is the audience’s vantage point from where we can witness the bustling roads, trains, traffic, and movement. But, it’s also a city carrying lurking secrets in its womb. At any given moment, the audience knows more than the characters. Even after the mystery gets resolved, we’ve more information than the lead. Kavaludaari balances its haunting mystery with a frenetic sensibility and noir overtones. A thick vein of layered narrative constantly flows underneath throughout the film. It’s definitely one of the finest murder mysteries to come out of India.




7. Anjaam Pathiraa (2020) (Dir. Midhun Manuel Thomas) (Malayalam)

One more Malayalam film on the list. Reiterating that Malayalam cinema is one of the world’s most riveting art industries at the moment. Drama, crime, romance, period sets, comedy, satires, theatricals, or OTT releases, India’s finest right now, is from this place. And, Anjaam Pathiraa is no different.  Anwar Hussain (a brilliant Kunchacko Boban) is a consulting criminologist who helps the Kerala Police every now and then. When a string of serial killings happens in quick succession, he must race against time to find the one responsible.




 

The one-line plot is nothing different from any psychological murder mystery. But what makes it work is a truly gripping script and sensational performances. A crafty thriller, Anjaam Pathiraa, takes a hot-button issue and makes us care about it. Even though the drama is undernourished, the film keeps you engaged & guessing. During the script narration, Kunchacko kept guessing the next move or trying to find the loopholes, but director Midhun Manuel Thomas’s phenomenal script kept him surprised with new twists & turns. Kunchacko gives the right demeanor to Anwar Hussain and effectively sheds the romantic hero image he is associated with.

With 144-mins of runtime, the film sometimes feels overtaxed, especially 30-mins before it wraps up, but not a single minute is invested/ wasted on songs or romance or even a line too many. If you can assimilate a few logical hiccups, I would strongly recommend Anjaam Pathiraa, and it’s definitely one of the best Indian murder mystery movies.




6. Kahaani (2012) (Dir. Sujoy Ghosh) (Hindi) 

Indian Murder Mysteries 15 Kahaani

Well, what can I say about Kahaani that has already not been said? The most appealing part of the film for me was how the milieu, Kolkata city, actually plays a parallel lead alongside Vidya Balan. Very rarely in Hindi cinema do the location and the backdrop play a character. Haider (2014) is another film that achieved this feat successfully. Vidya Bagchi (a superb Balan), a pregnant woman, travels to Kolkata from London in search of her missing husband. When all clues lead to a dead end, she realizes there is more than what meets the eye.




 

Sujoy Ghosh is a more-misses-than-hits filmmaker for me. Like most Bengali directors, I have this persistent bone to pick with him, too; they don’t know when to stop! Thankfully, this Kahaani ‘mostly’ ends when needed. Vidya rejected the film after hearing its plotline, only to change her mind after hearing the final script. Nawazuddin Siddiqui was shocked to be offered a part where he would not have to play a beggar! The same was the case with Saswata Chatterjee, who played the iconic Bob Biswas. He was surprised to be offered such a meaty part.

Kahaani is set in a world that is brimming with warm, sympathetic inhabitants, and the director gives a muted tribute to his roots. If it wasn’t for the fiendish twist at the climax and the apologetic explanation of her actions, Kahaani was a near-perfect film for me. Plus, the Durga metaphor felt forced and an insolent act of an over-indulgent Bengali stereotype. Perhaps, this is just one of my unpopular opinions. Kahaani remains a much loved, acclaimed, and powerful Indian murder mystery movies. An absolute must-watch.




5. Manorama Six Feet Under (2007) (Dir. Navdeep Singh) (Hindi)

While writing about Manorama Six Feet Under, I realized that the year 2007 was pleasantly refreshing for Bollywood, at least for my taste. Johnny Gaddar, Bheja Fry, Loins of Punjab Presents, No Smoking, Saawariya, Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, and Gandhi, My Father all these outré and brave stories were told alongside Om Shanti Om, Welcome, Jab We Met & Bhool Bhulaiyya, etc. Now, keeping this unnecessary observation aside, let’s talk about MSFU.

A homage to Chinatown (1974), the film follows Satyaveer, an engineer suspended for alleged corruption. Satyaveer, also an author of a tawdry and unsuccessful crime novel, is approached by a woman named Manorama to investigate her husband’s extramarital affair. As in the best noir thrillers, things go pear-shaped for Satyaveer as he becomes embroiled deeper in the intrigue.




The film feels like reading a crime novel more than watching a murder mystery. Snarls with a languid pace, Manorama… ditches the linear route for a winding path. Director Navdeep Singh’s assured debut oozes maturity and an absolute lack of conformity. Throughout the film, he stays true to his sub-heading – nothing is as it seems in the desert. No complaints about performances, but the film belongs to writing & cinematography. It’s so powerful that you can sometimes feel the scorching heat and sand of Rajasthan on your face.

Manorama… is verbally sparse and forces you to raise your sensibilities rather than being generic. If you’re a fan of slow burns, Manorama… would be an exciting puzzle for you. It’s intelligent, bizarre, dark, funny, and exceptionally riveting. Don’t miss it.




4. Drishyam (2013) (Dir. Jeethu Joseph) (Malayalam)

The Malayalam film industry, right now, is at par (or probably even better) with any industry across the globe. Their relentlessly disruptive and authentic churn out in recent years forced the world to take notice. This 2013 release is one such film, which got an official remake in Mainland China (Sheep without a Shepherd, 2019), in Sri Lanka (Dharmayuddhaya, 2017), and an Indonesian remake has already been announced. It is apart from four Indian remakes so far! Though, it’s more of a cat & mouse game than a murder mystery in a conventional sense, as we already know the crime & the culprit.

Georgekutty (always terrific Mohanlal) lives a happy life with his wife and daughters. However, things take a turn for the worse when his family commits an accidental crime, leaving him to protect them and their secret. Drishyam commences with a false sense of security. A happy, smiling family in a remote Kerala village, putting together a life they constructed for themselves. But don’t let this facade lull you in because when things go wrong, it’s a steep downhill, and the tension doesn’t let up.




 

Jeethu Joseph had no plans to direct the script he wrote. But, when the director he approached demanded a script change so that a younger actor could do the leading role, Jeethu decided to direct it himself. He then approached Mammootty for the role, but Mohanlal came on board owing to his conflicting schedule. Mohanlal’s approach to the part got Jeethu worried. He was so casual in his scenes during the shoot that Jeethu was convinced the film was going to bomb at the box office. However, after seeing the performance as a complete unit, Jeethu was shocked by the impact Mohanlal brought to Georgekutty! 

The script operates on absolute logic, performances make you empathize with each character, and the exceptional storytelling by Jeethu results in an exhilarating cinematic artichoke that confounds you with every peel that comes off. Do NOT miss the original Drishyam, even if you have seen any of its remakes.




3. Talvar (2015) (Dir. Meghna Gulzar) (Hindi)

Talvar is not a typical whodunnit. There’s a murder and an intense mystery, but instead of an edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting suspense, it’s the drama that sucks you in. The case has been in the collective consciousness of Indians for years, so the plot is not mysterious. And it’s a case that has altered the very fabric of India’s middle class, so we all have our own culprits in our minds. Hence no surprises there either. But, the gripping screenplay, multi-layered narrative, superlative performances, and an almost open-ended climax shakes you up.




Based on a true story of Noida’s double murder case in 2008, Talvar operates on the Rashōmon effect with three accounts of the same incident, each having validity. The realistic approach of the script immediately transports you to their world. Konkana Sen Sharma & Neeraj Kabi’s haunting portrayal of extremely complicated parenthood might leave you scarred. They portray guilt and innocence according to perceptions. Irrfan Khan as the CBI officer is everything you would expect from him and much more.

The film is made with such dryness that it feels more like a gritty documentary than a movie, which totally works in Talvar’s favor. There’s such a thick undercurrent of cruel dark humor that you’ll almost feel guilty laughing in many moments. For me, the film totters at two junctures. One, the film seems to be made with a blunt intention of proving parents’ innocence. Second, the half-baked and rather unnecessary back story of Irrfan’s character. Talvar appears to be rusted at these edges in an otherwise bloody sharp ride. Having said that, this is Meghna Gulzar’s best work to date. The film’s dignity, grit, and atmospheric tension will leave you uncomfortable and disturbed.




Related Content: 15 Best Performances By Irrfan

2. RangiTaranga (2015) (Dir. Anup Bhandari) (Kannada)

RangiTaranga is the most ‘Indian’ murder mystery on this list. It’s deeply ingrained in the strong ethos of a bygone culture and is highly localized, so much so that if you construct the film in any other generic set-up, it will lose the haunting, lingering effect it has right now. Alluding to it because a big budget Hindi remake has already been announced with either Akshay Kumar (sigh!) or Shahid Kapoor (sigh, again!) set to play the lead.

Gautam, a novelist, and his wife, Indu, visit her ancestral house after she experiences repetitive nightmares. Subsequently, some unnatural occurrences unfold a mystery about Gautam’s forgotten past. With all its edge-of-the-seat twists and turns, it’s still a complex film that requires your undivided attention. There are three complex narratives (each in different periods) intertwined, which has the potential to make you feel lost if you are not invested enough.




RangiTaranga was director Anup Bhandari’s debut feature, and it turned out to be one of those films that elevated the standard of the entire film industry. Released in July 2015, the film not only survived the Baahubali & Bajrangi Bhaijaan storm but also gave them tough competition at the box office by becoming the highest-grossing Kannada film at the time, domestically & internationally. In fact, it was a part of the venerated New York box office report, standing tall at #27.

Minor bumps like songs in the second half and lead actor Nirup Bhandari’s overall lumpy performance tumbles the film at a few moments. Still, the sharp screenplay, direction, cinematography, and the majestic Saikumar’s towering performance keep you invested at all times. Frolic-seeking viewers or experience-seeking cinephiles, RangiTaranga, will appeal to both universes. It’s a cinematic ashta dravya, take a bow and taste it.




 

1. Raat Akeli Hai (2020) (Dir. Honey Trehan) (Hindi)

Much before the norm, Raat Akeli Hai had a direct-to-OTT release. Debutant director Honey Trehan’s confident and assured murder mystery is so layered and crowded that you may find it difficult to enter the story. But, once you do – oh boy! The plot revolves around inspector Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) solving the murder of Khalid Tyabji (Raghubeer Singh), a wealthy landlord. His new wife, Radha (Radhika Apte), is a suspect. What follows is not simply the unraveling of the mystery but also the intramural journey of the characters.

Raat Akeli Hai refers to sexism, classism, colorism, and the patriarchy, but never on the nose. Shot in Kanpur & Lucknow, the director’s command of the tone and visual texture is applaudable. The film also has a terrific sense of time and place. It is a world where a dark-skinned inspector applies fairness cream before stepping out, and women are shunned, literally & metaphorically.




Writer Smita Singh wrote the script way before she did Sacred Games (2018). While in FTII, Smita wrote a rough draft of it as an assignment, and it got circulated. Trehan, who had already looked at hundreds of scripts to make his debut, also got that draft and immediately stopped his search!

Raat Akeli Hai is a Gothic suspense thriller with themes similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) and Rebecca (1940). Repression, hollow morality, a claustrophobic new world, secrets, and the murder that binds the pearls together. Gripping, powerful, and nuanced, Raat Akeli Hai is one of the best murder mysteries to come out of the Indian film industry.





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