Movie Review: Badlapur ( 2015 )

Sometimes I cheat. And I put in reviews outside of Fantasy and Science Fiction books here on my blog. And if it is movies, then it usually is a movie that has affected me in a great manner.

Badlapur fits right into that mold – a revenge saga directed by Sriram Raghavan, a past master at creating dark haunting cinematic pieces that focuses on the dark labyrinths within one’s mind – remember Ek Hasina Thi? Several scenes were disturbing and had me cringing – but Sriram’s deft hands brought them out in the best possible manner – a crime-thriller, slick and underrated that went on to be appreciated as art-form in a genre that usually sees a lot of kitschy rehashes of Hollywood or Korean movies. Sriram’s handiwork – perhaps inspired – is still one of the best we get to see and Badlapur marks a bounce-back to form for the talented director ( After his big budget Agent Vinod tanked!)

Varun Dhawan plays Raghav aka Raghu, an up and coming ad agency executive living the plush happy life – married to Misha (Yami Gautam sleepwalking through another role yet again – playing the‘love-interest in the flashback’ ) with a young son, Robin – in Pune when their perfectly enviable dream-like life gets railroaded by a bank robbery gone horribly wrong. In fact the whole movie revolves around this one scene right in the beginning – where a small-time conman Layik ( Nawazuddin Siddique yet again playing a mesmerizing role that establishes his cadre as the top talent in the industry today) along with his henchman Harman ( Vinay Pathak) hijack Misha’s car to get away with their bank-loot and in the car-chase that follows, Robin the boy gets thrown out of the moving car and Misha gets shot by Layik.

From that moment on, you know this movie is going to grip you and slam you up against the walls to not let you go till the last frame. It’s a hurried shot – the gun-shot and the sullen shocked silence that follows. But Layik – Nawazuddin oozes pure evil as he calmly asks his partner to get off and then surrenders to police, claiming the shooting was done by his partner ( Who manages to disappear by then) and that he was only a getaway driver.  Enter Raghu – who watches his wife die in front of him and the cut-up dead body of his dead son at the morgue. And as we watch the devolution in him, a slow subtle change in Raghu – now possessed by the devil to extract revenge on whoever did this to him - we know we are in for the full ride. 

There are terrifying moments in the movie that grip you cold and make the hair at the nape of neck curl in anguish and fear - Raghu dancing with his imaginary wife in his hands, Raghu tying up Jimli (Layik's girlfriend who is a prostitute) to the bed head-post with silken kerchiefs, Raghu rolling up plastic sheets to mop up the spilled blood....The list goes on. From an acting point of view, I thought Varun Dhawan's delivered his best performance ever. For him - to go from the bright-eyed high-spirited Student of the Year/Main Tera Hero character to this obsessive menacing brooder, Varun's really worked hard on his emoting. Even developed a heavy walk that goes with his character. I'm a big fan of his ( think from that bunch of bratty star-kids who crowded the screen in Student of the Year, this boy was the brightest find for the industry!) Nawazuddin, well - this powerhouse of talent just blew my mind away. After Gangs of Wasseypur, this was yet another knockout. The other actors too pitched in with pretty seasoned performances - be it Huma Quereshi playing the hooker, Radhika Apte in a very nuanced performance as Harman's wife or Kumud Mishra playing the crafty inspector - all of them have put in outstanding performances.

Raghu’s gradual descent into depravity and madness possessed by this single-mindedness to not just extract revenge but to inflict pain on whoever did this to him – is the highlight of the story.  It’s a twisted dark drama – driven purely on by these two characters, their confrontation and their all-consuming hatred for each other. Just as you are convinced that Layik is a lying conniving bastard without any remorse in life and that Raghu is the victim thirsting to set right to the horrific wrongs that plagues his life – the movie switches tracks and you balk, confused and refusing to believe. This moment - there is a clear turn of events and an unforgettable scene that convinces you of Raghu's spiraling meltdown - is a suckerpunch. And quite possibly WAS the shot of the entire movie for me ( Not revealing that to avoid spoilers!)

The grey in their characters spread, mingle and then by the end of the movie, we are hard pressed to take a call as to who is the greater evil. This isn’t a regular- slasher revenge story with explosive fight sequences. It’s a slow movie – character-driven spanning all the other lives that gets drawn into this game of revenge including Layik’s mother, the police-office who investigates this murder from the beginning, Harman’s wife and Layik’s girlfriend.
The narrative is brilliant, soaked in suspense and narrowly balanced on the knife’s edge as you wait for more than fifteen years for Raghu to go about his revenge. And even as he does, you realize that it isn’t just revenge – that Raghu is so far down the path of black that there is no turning back for him now. There is no redemption for anyone involved.

For all the novel experimentation with casting and narrative, overall I felt the movie was a wee-bit too long.  Languorous is the word. The pacing was off-kilter and there were logic plot holes. You probably would walk out of the theater - disturbed and depressed - at the end of the movie. But maybe that was exactly what Sriram Raghavan was driving for. As far as I'm concerned, he has done a stupendous job of making this messed up twisty revenge saga that is duplicitous and slippery. Perhaps not as taut as the Korean Noir but definitely breaking new grounds for Bollywood!


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