Critics rating: 3.5 Stars
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Qureshi, Vinay Pathak, Divya Dutta, Radhika Apte, Yami Gautam
Direction: Sriram Raghavan
Produced: Dinesh Vijan, Sunil Lulla
Written: Sriram Raghavan, Arijit Biswas.
Duration: 125 Mins.
The film’s opening title card sets the tone with an apt African proverb: “The axe forgets, but the tree remembers.” And so it is, when two bank robbers hijack afamily car, speeding off in the heat of the moment with Raghu’s (Varun Dhawan) wife Misha (Yami Gautam) and son Robin. One of them, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), takes the chase to a bloody conclusion by doing away with mother and son. His partner escapes and pursuing Inspector Govind Mishra (Kumud Mishra) catches up with him, though not soon enough.
The damage has already been done for the hapless hero, who is out to seek answers, settle scores and raise a hell greater than the one he is living with. The process begins in an eerie calm and with a slow build-up from the scene where Raghu tells his well wishers that the funeral is the next day, in an even tone. His wrath surfaces upon seeing Liak in police custody, who vehemently denies having killed Misha. Inspector Mishra has to play referee, interrogator and investigator. With that, Raghu morphs into a self-serving vigilante, almost like a Batman to his Robin (depicted in acosplay photograph in the film).
A deadpan scene where Inspector Mishra gives a forthright interview to TV reporters to enthusiastic applause from a constable is disarmingly funny. Badlapur is replete with these little instances of mirthless humour. Another offhand scene has Raghu’s parents quietly squabbling over what to serve Misha’s grieving parents for lunch, since they had not eaten a bite of anything. Raghu cannot even use transportation without having his fellow passengers loudly and indiscreetly speculate on where they saw him on TV. In a more serious sequence where he wrecks a suspect’s living room in his rage, he is almost reminiscent of a loan shark who has come to collect dues that can never be repaid.
Badlapur is based on a story written by crime writer Massimo Carlotto, working along the noir theme of Johnny Gaddar but with a greater slant towards realism. For a film that follows a wronged man’s quest for vengeance, there are plenty of women in the film, either aiding or stymieing the hero in his progress. The interesting part is that the roles are distinct and stand-out in their own right, whether it is the prostitute Jhimli (Huma Qureshi), Ashwini Kalsekar’s superb cameo, Pratima Kanan (as Liak’s mother), Shobha (Divya Dutta) and Kanchan (Radhika Apte), who is a part of the film’s more memorable junctures.
If the characters in Johnny Gaddar took a fancy for James Hadley Chase novels, a handful in Badlapur are taken in by Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now. While the latter novel may be an occult classic, it certainly touches upon the themes of the dead and the unrelenting ghosts of the past.
Badlapur is dark, afflicting and unflinchingly pushes the envelope on the grey characterisations of almost all the key players involved. Liak is a fascinating watch, simply as a character study for the darkness of his deeds and the absurdity of his actions. Raghu, in hisseething intensity, may arguably cross a few lines, raising a crucial question among the audience: how far are you willing to root for the aggrieved protagonist in the absence of a moral code?