The wheels of fortune turn and characters find true love, a bag full of money, or just themselves – all over the course of a single night.
In Akshat Verma’s January 12 release Kaalakaandi, a man (Saif Ali Khan) is revealed to have cancer. It takes him a single night to undertake a journey into the depths of Mumbai, and his soul, to emerge as a different man from the other end of the rabbit hole.
More often than not, in movies set over the course of a night, the hero (and the odd heroine) finds himself involved with gangsters, cops, and a range of eccentric types who, somehow, go unnoticed in broad daylight.
No film exemplifies how topsy-turvy a person’s world can get in a single night than Martin Scorsese’s black comedy After Hours (1985). Paul, a bored computer word processor (Griffin Dunne), wants to have a good time after a long hard day at work. He befriends a seemingly charming woman Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) and lands up at her house for a date. What follows has him running through the streets of Brooklyn chased by a mob from which he escapes to find shelter in a punk bar, among other things, until he is finally turned into an artwork. At daybreak, he finds himself right at the door of his office at the start of yet another boring day.
After Hours, shot for the most part after dark, blurs the line between the real and the unreal. The protagonist collides with a range of idiosyncratic characters, and is dragged from one ludicrous situation to another. The hero gets exhausted, exasperated, and gasping for normalcy.
The narrative device gets a less Kafkaesque and grittier twist in Sudhir Mishra’s Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi (1996). Aditya (Nirmal Pandey), an advertising professional, finds himself in the wrong books of Mumbai don Ramanbhai (Ashish Vidyarthi). Aditya has to save himself from Ramanbhai’s goons while trying to sidestep a rogue police officer and his wife and mistress, all in the matter of a few hours.
Mishra revisits a similar concept in Chameli (2004), in which a banker getting embroiled in the Mumbai netherworld. Aman (Rahul Bose) gets entangled with prostitute Chameli (Kareena Kapoor). The experience inexplicably changes Aman for the better.
Sanjay Khanduri has a zanier take in Ek Chalis Ki Last Local (2007), in which call centre professional Nilesh (Abhay Deol) gets thrown around from one insane plot development to another until he finds himself with Rs 2.5 crores after two-and-a-half hours.
Sometimes, you don’t need to be out on the streets after night to find trouble. It comes knocking at the doorstep in Ram Gopal Varma’s thriller Kaun? (1999). It is a rainy night, a serial killer is on the loose, and an intrusive man makes himself welcome at the house of a woman living all by herself.
Purnavale (Manoj Bajpayee) claims to be the business partner of the woman’s husband, but the woman, identified only as madam (Urmila Matondkar), insists that he is at the wrong address. Meanwhile, tough cop Qureshi (Sushant Singh) comes to the house, but he is not who he claims to be. Once again, people are revealed to be harbouring entirely different selves after dark.
Michael Mann gives the nighttime encounter a macabre turn in Collateral (2004), in which a mousy driver (Jamie Foxx) ends up chauffeuring a dreaded assassin (Tom Cruise) through the night. Between killing by the hour, the assassin engages in philosophical conversations with the driver. By the end of the film, the driver – a changed man – is looking down at the slain assassin with a gun in hand and a woman by his side.
The transformation need not always happen in nightmarish ways. In Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth, all it takes for its characters to find a different side to themselves is one innocuous chance encounter inside a taxi.
In one night, across five cities – Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helinski – different individuals find themselves in revelatory situations with their taxi drivers. An uptight Hollywood executive finds herself charmed by the preoccupations of simpler people; a clueless cabbie in New York gets a welcome tour of the city; a prickly taxi driver falls in love with his mysterious and blind passenger; two men stop sympathising with their down-on-luck friend on hearing an even sadder story from their driver. In a darkly comic scenario, a priest dies of a heart attack when his driver incessantly talks about his sexual escapades with a pumpkin, a sheep and his brother’s wife.
Chance encounters perhaps have a fairer chance of leading to friendly relations rather than skirmishes with criminals. In Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), a young American man and a French woman spend the night walking and talking through the streets of Vienna and falling for each other till they go on their separate ways after daybreak.
Through the course of the night in this seemingly plotless movie, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) have free-wheeling conversations have love, life, religion, poetry, and everything else under the moon. They end the night arm in arm, and say goodbye with the hope that they may meet at the same spot after six months. They eventually do so in the sequel Before Sunset (2004), and in a third movie, Before Midnight (2013).