Director: Sriram Raghavan
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Varun Dhawan, Vinay Pathak, Yami Gautam, Huma Qureshi, Divya Dutta
Rating: 3.5 stars
The axe forgets. The tree remembers. This African proverb fires off the proceedings of 'Badlapur', and over the next 130 minutes we come to know why. Sriram Raghavan’s much awaited revenge drama, that is said to be based on a true account, marks his return to pure small-scare noir. The filmmaker went a bit off-target with the exorbitant 'Agent Vinod'. With 'Badlapur' he returns to his comfort zone and when you can push boundaries like Sriram does in this film, being comfortable is perhaps not such a bad thing.
'Badlapur'is not as edge-of-the-seat as Sriram’s first Bollywood offering, the hugely underrated 'Ek Haseena Thi', or even his second one, the highly critically acclaimed 'Johnny Gaddar'. But this Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui starrer has a deeper connect, a soul hidden under all that bloodbath. Sriram’s tools are all intact, if not shinier. 'Badlapur' is technically sound, ticks all the right boxes in dialogues, screenplay, art design, cinematography and sound design. The editing could have been tightened a wee bit more, and in some parts you do feel things slowing down a little. It could be Sriram’s way of telling that 15 years is a long time and things can indeed slow down. But then revenge is also a slow-cooked dish, isn’t it?
If they ever introduce a new awards category called ‘the best opening scene’, 'Badlapur' could very likely be the winner. No wonder the tag line says ‘Don’t miss the beginning.’ It’s a day like any other when Misha (Yami Gautam, who plays Varun’s wife in the film), and her son get accidentally murdered as two bank robbers try to escape with the loot. One of them is Nawazuddin Siddiqui. While his accomplice escapes with the loot and the murder weapon, Nawaz, who plays Liak in the film, is nabbed by the police and is sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. He doesn’t admit to his crime, neither does he give out the name of his partner.
Raghu’s (Varun Dhawan) picture-perfect life comes to a bloody halt with these two sudden deaths. And overnight he transforms from a loving husband and father to a man who’ll stop at nothing for revenge. He leaves his home in Pune and moves a few hours away, to 'Badlapur'. Fifteen years go by but time is unable to dilute his thirst for revenge. 'Badlapur', which is his home now, becomes a metaphor for his vindictive refuge.
The story is as dark as it gets, but Sriram never loses his wicked humour. He effortlessly creates situations where you do feel sorry for what you see, but you cannot help let out a snigger. And then he undercuts that moment with a surprise or a shock. The writing is smart where nobody tries to deliver a punch line but the impact is golden nonetheless. A private detective (played by Ashwini Kalsekar) that Raghu hires speaks of a prostitute, saying, “Woh do ghante ka paach hazaar, aur main chaubees ghante ka do hazar. Batao!” And when Nawaz tries to cajole his lady love, a prostitute called Jhimli (played by Huma Qureshi), from behind the bars, saying “Aye, koi gandi baat bol naa” are little tender moments that add both fun and depth to the story and its characters.
And with Nawaz at the peak of his game, there are plenty of moments like these. He makes Liak the cheeky, witty, twisted slime ball, whose spirit cannot be beaten, not by the police, not by Raghu, not even by destiny. He’s a killer and a romantic too and he loves his mother and he’s also a loyal friend. This could be one of the most layered characters he has ever played. He just takes the simplest of lines and words and turns them into epic moments in cinema. In every film we feel we have seen his best, and Nawaz just goes to prove us wrong with his next.
He very clearly steals the show from Varun, but that’s not to trivialize Varun’s act. Much like his character transforms overnight in Badlapur, Varun the actor does the same from his “student” days to a killer with a hammer. From twinkly eyes to a steely, unblinking stare, from a dimpled smile to a full-grown ragged beard, this transformation will be hard to beat.
Sriram’s forte also lies in how well he directs his supporting cast. Vinay Pathak, Divya Dutta, Radhika Apte, Huma Qureshi and Kumud Mishra deliver top notch performances in their limited screen time. Radhika stands out especially as the good protective wife and the scenes involving her, Vinay and Varun are some of the best. Vinay is apt for the part as a husband with a past as is Huma who delivers a controlled performance as a call-girl. Kumud Mishra as the pot-bellied police inspector manages to show multiple shades ranging from fury to patience. The director doesn’t linger on any scene or any line more than what is required. It’s amazing how with the least amount of dialogues he manages to give us an insight into each of his characters.
As the film progresses the lines between the perpetrator and victim begin to fade. Sriram Raghavan turns the genre of revenge on its head. It’s as thrilling as it is introspective. There’s no good, bad or ugly. You see how ugly good can get, how bad can have some good too. No sides taken. Go figure.
Watch the trailer here: