Badlapur Hindi Movie
"Don't miss the beginning", exclaims Badlapur's tagline cheekily. It could be because the makers thought the first scene of the film was essential to the narrative, or they wanted viewers to experience the film in its entirety, or they wanted to greet the audience with the extremely apt African proverb "The axe forgets, but the tree remembers" that flashes across the screen.
Or maybe, they just hate people who're too lazy to even reach the theater for a movie on time. I know I would've done that. But whatever the motivation may have been, we'll probably never know for sure. The correct answer lies inside the minds of the makers, and one man in particular, Sriram Raghavan.
Post his big-budget venture Agent Vinod that turned out to be a debacle, Raghavan returns to his dark, violent thriller roots with Badlapur. Agent Vinod was the kind of film that comes as a slap in the face of its director and triggers a midlife crisis. Raghavan, thankfully, seems to have recovered fully and has come to the realization that having a seemingly unlimited budget and actors instead of characters for your film is probably not the best idea if you're trying to diverge from the well-trodden path.
In Badlapur, he manages to craft a slick, stylish, demented yet emotionally charged revenge drama that crackles and breathes fire, engrosses and entertains, astounds and disgusts at the same time. The film is about one man's descent into insanity as he becomes obsessed with avenging the deaths of his wife and his son from the perpetrators. But as time passes and his obsession grows, you're left wondering who the bad guy really is.
The motifs in Badlapur are highly reminiscent of his earlier (brilliant) work in Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddaar, wherein nobody is innocent. No character is black or white. The proverbial bad guys may not be bad at all and the good guys may turn out to be worse than you thought. There is no fight between good and evil, unlike most revenge dramas, and it eventually all boils down to the situations that the characters find themselves in.
But the best and worst part about the film is that it defies expectations in every possible way. Even for a fan of noir like me, what I had judged the film to be from its trailers is completely different from what it turns out to be. You go in expecting to see a bloodbath, lots of anguished screaming and pulpy thrills. While you get your share of pulp, the bloodbath is surprisingly missing, instead replaced with a blinding number of twists.
Every time you expect the film to go left, it goes right. Every time you expect the film to take one path, it goes down a completely different one instead, and not always for the better. While there's no doubting the film's (and Raghavan's) intelligence, sometimes the film is a little too smart for its own good. But never mind the blemishes, because no matter what blind turn the film takes into whatever unknown alley, you're still left either slack-jawed with amazement or nodding your head in tune with the film's rock-based background score (by Sachin-Jigar).
Badlapur is a breathtaking film in more than one respects, leaving you giddy with pleasure as it traverses the difficult terrain of film-noir with the ease and comfort of sitting in just your boxers on a pleasant Sunday morning. And while making a film that is so technically adept wouldn't have been possible were it not for a well-coordinated team effort, the one man who deserves a lion share of the credit is Sriram Raghavan.
As the director and co-writer of the film (alongside Arijit Biswas), at no point does Raghavan take his foot off the accelerator, instead pacing the film beautifully as he sends his protagonist Raghu hurtling through one door after the other into an all-engulfing darkness that takes over him. He directs with a firm hand, injecting humor that would be shocking and depressing if it wasn't so funny every now and then.
He envisions the film as no one else in Bollywood could, melding beautiful imagery with devious circumstances. He appears in sync with cinematographer and first-time collaborator Anil Mehta, shooting the film beautifully from every possible angle to magnify the impact of the proceedings without coming off as Ram Gopal Varma, which is obviously a good thing.
Editor and frequent collaborator Pooja Ladha Surti's editing isn't at the same level as their previous work together, with some of the cuts being a bit choppy and jarring. But she does manage to keep the proceedings tight and crisp, which helps the film boundlessly. Sachin-Jigar, one of the best, most consistent and most versatile composers today in India, once again score brownie points with a well-rounded soundtrack with "Jee Karda" being the best Hindi song in a long, long time.
Learning from his time spent in the prison called Agent Vinod, Raghavan picks character actors instead of stars to fill out the various roles, with the possible exception of Varun Dhawan. But any doubts may have had about Dhawan's ability to convincingly portray a complex character like Raghu evaporate faster than water kept on a hot stove. He gets multiple opportunities to blow both his part and consequently the film, but trudges on with a steely resolve that is uncharacteristic of him. Looking every bit the 40-year old deranged killer suffering from a psychotic break from reality, he plays Raghu with a maturity and conviction that astounds you. Whether it is sobbing his eyes out, saying the most outrageous things with a straight face or going on a violent rampage, Dhawan does it all without questioning his director's vision and suggestions.
The other main protagonist (antagonist) of the film is Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Liak, the criminal. Siddiqui is once again in top-notch form, playing his character with the typical abandon that he possesses. He takes an already well-written part and takes it a few notches higher with his performance. He humanizes a character that would otherwise be at the receiving end of audience antipathy, which makes the eventual role reversal towards the end of the film even more believable.
Badlapur's cast also consists of other good actors in small parts such as Vinay Pathak, Yami Gautam, Huma Qureshi, Radhika Apte, Divya Dutta, Ashwini Kalsekar, Murli Sharma and a Raghavan regular Zakir Hussain. Each of them gives a great performance at best and an effective one at the worst, which is more than what you could expect from the leads of most other films.
All in all, Badlapur is an intense and captivating cinematic experience for those bored of the typical Bollywood shtick and looking for something refreshingly different. It also marks a scintillating return to form for director Sriram Raghavan. Sure, it may not stand the test of time and repeat viewings as his Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddaar have, but even a sub-100% Sriram Raghavan is a brilliant Sriram Raghavan. You'd be remiss not catching this film at a nearby theater this weekend.