The Indian film Ludo, co-directed by Q (Gandu) and Nikon, shrugs off cohesiveness and a palpable message in favor of bloody havoc as it hurls its audience into sheer chaos during its latter half. The title comes from the board game of the same name, which originated in India as “Pachisi” (aka Parcheesi). The game is one of the few cultural touches in Ludo. It’s supposed to hold some importance in the mythology behind the narrative, but I’ll be damned if I could grasp the game’s significance amidst all the mayhem.
The film takes place on one rowdy night as Ria and her best friend Payel head out to paint Kolkata red. Running out in the skimpy outfits (by Indian standards), the two young girls meet up with walking erections Pele and Babai. Drinking and dancing ensue and soon it’s time for the four to shack up and do the damn thing. They find no luck getting a hotel room and decide to hide inside a shopping mall until closing so they can run amuck and bang to their hearts’ content. It’s a teenage fantasy we’ve all had, I’m sure.
All four would’ve gotten their rocks off too if it wasn’t for the creepy ass homeless couple lurking in the mall’s shadows. The old hag pulls out an ancient-looking Ludo board and soon Ria and Payel find themselves in the game of their lives.
Ludo goes through a lot of typical horror beats, including the introduction of four shallow teenage characters we never form any emotional attachment to. Then at about the halfway point, the film takes a turn and starts digging into some material that’s promising and off the beaten path. There are gnarly flashbacks to primeval times that introduce new characters who tie into the game (somehow). There are visceral bursts of fanged women and ancient rituals with pounding drums. Coinciding with these flashbacks is the girls’ metamorphoses as the game consumes them, body and soul.
The beginning of Ludo is extremely vibrant and raucous as the girls meet up with their suitors and haul ass through the nightclubs and alleyways of Kolkata. Q and Nikon obviously have a sharp eye for making stuff (like partying teens) we’ve seen a million times before feel fresh and alive. They flirt a bit during this first act with addressing India’s sexual and cultural repression, but it seems like the filmmakers are unsure how to deliver a tangible message.
There’s a lot of promise in Ludo that gradually dissolves when the horror elements kick in. By the end, after we’ve seen guts consumed and other hideous acts occur under the mall’s roof, I wasn’t sure what was trying to be said other than “look at how crazy this shit is!” There’s an edginess to their film trying to find balance with the message, but the two never cohesively mesh. And what the hell is up with the game again?