The review for Badlapur went up on the Dawn, but was edited for space, so I put the entire version here.
It is the one thing cinema going audiences crave – detailed and sympathetic portrayals without veering towards the simplistic, hoping our daily experiences are reflected in the films we watch without ever resorting to escapism or parody, all the while praying that if nothing else our filmmakers wouldn’t question our intelligence.
This turn to realism, perhaps, even hyperrealism, has made inroads into Bollywood in recent years. Be it Bombay Talkies, Lunch Box, or Ugly, cinematic authenticity is up for grabs and quickly being sought after by young filmmakers, and, ever so surprisingly, by young actors too! Badlapur is an excellent addition to this growing kitty of films. Dark but not quite dastardly, twisted but certainly not traumatizing, this revenge saga grips you for a full two-hour ride and not just with an “Ab kya hoga?”, but instead with an “Aisa kyun?”.
True to the opening credits the beginning is indeed not to be missed, not because it gives away the plot or leads to any profound appreciation of Badlapur, but rather because it is steeped in the very authenticity I mentioned above.
From the thalaywala selling his wares, the haphazard parking on Main Street (M.G. Road), the flow of everyday traffic be it human or otherwise, and the dusty, grimy, and humid tinges that the camerawork adds to Pune’s cityscape make one believe—right from the outset—that this is indeed real. A visual we encounter everyday, a scene etched in our minds.
With this explosive start, it is hard to think Badlapur would disappoint, and it does not, but it does leave a feeling that something is amiss.
A story of love, revenge, and anger Badlapur begins with a bank robbery gone horribly wrong. Misha (Yami Gautam) and Robin are making their way back home before Daddy, Raghav aka Raghu (Varun Dhawan), gets home. Alas fate, or, should I say, kismet, have something far sinister in store. Their CRV taken over by hoodlums, Laik (Nawazuddin Siddique) and Harman (Vinay Pathak), leads to a one of the best chase sequences this side of Hollywood(!) and a bitter and painful farewell to Raghu’s picture-perfect family.
So beautifully is this sequence filmed and positioned within the movie, that we almost hit the ground running, we’re in the thick of the narrative. A fun place to be, but explosive beginnings require an equally, if not more, dhamakadaar mid-section and conclusion. And this is where Badlapur slightly falters.
After having given us thirty minutes of intense action, solid movement, we come to point where the narrative just refuses to pick up. Seeing Liak escaping his confinement twice becomes repetitive, but I suppose that is exactly the point, as jail is no walk in the park.
With twits and turns abound leading to Jhimli (Huma Qureshi), Joshi (Ashwini Kalsekar), and Liak’s Ammi-ji (Pratima Kazmi), the plot finally picks up fifteen years later with Shobha (Divya Dutta) entering Raghu’s life. This final twist is compounded with Kanchan (Radhika Apte) and Harman as sitting ducks for Raghu’s inteqam ki aag!
Without resorting to spoilers, the film reaches its logical anjaam a decade-and-a-half after the original events, but it leaves one with an unsettling feeling. Perhaps, more importantly, it makes one wonder what did revenge achieve? In the end, what did Raghu get? Laik got his freedom (take it whichever way you may), Jhimli got her keeper, Inspector saab is enjoying his retirement, but what of Raghu…?
As Jhilmi leaves Raghu with the same question the audience can’t help but ask, Sriram Raghavan pans out of Badlapur, and maybe, just maybe, Raghu’s badlay ki aag as well.
As far as stories go, Badlapur is neither new nor innovative, but it is a strong film because of the focused direction – Raghavan has a point and he’s making it. When the storyteller at the helm of a project knows what he wants to leave the audience with, the storytelling becomes that much more compelling. This is a fact evident in Raghavan’s earlier work too. A simple comparison between Johnnay Gaddar and Agent Vinod would suffice, although the less said about this comparison, the better.
Here, the manner in which Raghavan captures Raghu’s dark and menacing endgame coupled with Laik’s razor-sharp wit is extremely effective. Add brusque mannerisms, suicidal mardaani, inefficient and corrupt policemen, and a few femme-fatales thrown in for good measure, and you have a thriller that is both murky and intriguing.
Similarly, the actors are well cast, especially the local Marathi talent, such as Apte, Kalesekar, and Mishra, truly ushering in the Pune vibe. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Liak is an absolute pleasure to watch. His character’s growth is not only visible but can also be felt. Take, for instance, his maturity at turning himself in for a crime he knows he cannot escape from. Suffering from cancer, unable to locate his share of the loot, loveless, lonely, and at death’s doorstep, Siddiqui captures Liak’s tumultuous emotions perfectly.
In the same vein, Huma Qureshi does an excellent job supporting Siddiqui. Her muffled sobs and hushed whispers add much need gravity to Liak and Jhimli’s relationship. Even her brief screen time with Dhawan is sizzling to say the least.
Speaking of Varun Dhawan, his Raghu is one sick and revenge-obsessed bastard (pardon the French!). Just like Liak’s transition from a remorseless, thieving, and good for nothing lout to a man coming to terms with his actions, and their consequences, we see Raghav on a journey to self-destruction. From a happy father and husband, he’s become this hammer-toting, women-abusing, gunda in a suit. Talk about transformations!
And Dhawan captures this change perfectly. His meticulously trimmed bearded, collared shirts, and disarming smile hide a madman out for blood.
Moreover, both Siddiqui and Dhawan have an excellent supporting cast to work with. Apte and Pathak add a comic dimension to Raghu’s ménage à trois. Divya Dutta fits the kohl-lined, khadi wearing NGO worker to a T. Is it any wonder, then, that the acting is anything but stellar?
Even the technical aspects of this film are fairly sound. The soundtrack, for the most part, is relegated to the background, which is a necessity for a good thriller, though, the film could have had a song or two less.
The cinematography, I believe, brings Badlapur together. It takes the story, sets it in semi-urban Pune (and outskirts), positions the cast into specific locations and captures gripping performances. Right from the opening sequence through to the end, the photography never gets tiring! A special mention to the Rajdhani at Badlapur station, I have never seen a train in India look so good as it does in this film!
The one place the film could have improved is the editing. The long drawn out section in the middle could have been reined in with a tighter edit.
These technical advantages coupled with good acting and capable direction make Badlapur a must watch, yet, as I said earlier the film leaves something amiss.
Raghu’s entire journey is about revenge, badla, but it is as much about transformation and change. It is about circumstances and how they impact a person. For Liak, it led to a revelation where he acknowledges his sins and pays for them too. For Jhimli, it was accepting a life without Liak. For Koko and Harman, there was no option other than a happily (n)ever after. As for Raghu, what was his transformation? For the better…? For the worse…?
It is this question the film never really answers. An astute move by the director to steer clear of any moral commentary on the actions of his characters, but the kind that might leave some in the audience wanting a sense of closure.
For me, I take the badla in the song “Badla, Badla” not just as revenge but also as change. And change is always authentic.
RB’s Snap-o-Meter: A full four snaps up!
Until next time,
RB (Tweet me!)