Sriram Raghavan's Badlapur opens on a very tantalising note with an African proverb: 'The axe forgets, the tree remembers'.
Never mind that his last outing, Agent Vinod (2007), disappeared without a whimper. Badlapur was touted to be Raghavan's comeback film, a revenge drama seldom seen on Indian screens. That this national-award winning filmmaker was also responsible for Ek Hasina Thi, a brilliant thriller starring Urmila Matondkar and Saif Ali Khan, only raised expectations in the days before Badlapur. Does the movie live up to the hype? Let us explore the film in bits and see if it does.
Raghav (Varun Dhawan) is a cool, urban, boy-next door guy, proud of his newest ad campaign: For a push-up bra! While he's proudly presenting his idea in a board room, a young woman, Yami Gautam, is busy shopping with her kid in another frame. Just when Raghav credits his wife for the 'brilliant' idea, he gets a call from her phone and is told that she has been shot! Yes, there are no more pink, fluffy romance or love in the movie, except for Varun's flashback sessions. It's all dark and gory from here.
Raghavan keeps the story in Badlapur simple. It is about Raghav whose wife and kid are caught in the crossfire during a bank robbery and killed. One of the accused, Layak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is caught, but his accomplice, Harman (Vinay Pathak), manages to flee. Layak is sentenced to 20 years' jail imprisonment and it is only fifteen years after the incident that Raghav discovers Harman.
What he does to avenge the death of the people he loved the most is what Badlapur is all about. Raghavan, who has co-written the movie with Arijit Biswas, does not treat the audience with the usual suspense of who did what but reveals all of it right at the beginning. We know who killed Yami Gautam, Raghav's wife and even our protagonist knows that.
What we do not know is how and when will Raghav take his revenge. And his enemies? The drama builds in the film while we wait for Layak's accomplices to surface. Perhaps, this is where Raghavan's script fails. It maintains a dark tone throughout the film, but does not quite build the tempo required for a thriller. For a story as simple as the one he's has picked, the revenge and angst do not quite come out as passionately as we wished. Could it be that Raghav was a tad laid back back in his attitude? While he hires a private detective to find out about Layak and discovers that there is girlfriend too in the picture, all he does is force himself on the woman -- Jhumli (Huma Qureshi), a prostitute! Even the scene where Raghav reveals his identity and scares Jhumli, lacks the force that a man avenging his wife's death on the murderer's girlfriend should wield.
Badlapur's story fizzles out a bit in the second half when the revenge saga turns into a moral dictat. Layak simply walks into a police station and confesses having committed all the murders that Raghav did. And no, that is not even to punish Raghav with the guilt -- Layak's conscience has suddenly woken up with a death wish (he is dying of stomach cancer) of giving the protagonist 'a second chance'! The last scene in the movie shows Huma walking up to Varun and telling him, "Tere biwi baccha marne wala aadmi (Nawaz) mar gaya. Tera badla to poora ho gaya, ab kya karega?" And another lecture on how no one gets a second chance in life, so unlike Jhumli and Layak (who never got a second chance to improve their lives and undo their wrongs), Raghav must take his life forward, move on.
When the audience goes for a revenge saga, it does not expect moral lectures. Indian audiences love pure, undiluted revenge; we revel in the heroism of avenging our loved ones.
The performances, nonetheless, are amazing. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a wasted, poor man who does not have any qualms being the baddie and he is brilliant. Especially the sequences inside the prison are hilarious. Nawaz loves poking Murli Sharma, who is the ruling 'dada' in the jail. Murli, too, adds to the dark humour in these sequences. While Yami Gautam does not have too much of screenspace, Divya Dutta (an activist working for rehabilitation of prisoners), Ashwini Kalsekar (private detective) and Radhika Apte (Harman's wife) look convincing in their roles, adding weightage to the narrative. Kumud Mishra (police officer) and Pratima Kanana (Nawaz's mother), too are impressive in their roles.
Badlapur is, without doubt, Varun Dhawan's best till date. Whether it is crying over the sudden deaths or romancing invisible Yami or the cold-blooded murders, his expressions never fail to scare the audience or touch the right chord. In just fifteen minutes of film's opening, Varun transforms from the young Student of The Year to a mature, well-trained actor.
Some of the sequences in the film deserve special mention. For one, where Varun forces himself onto Huma. A cheap, sleazy song plays in the background as Huma tries to seduce Varun. When she realises that he is not there for her but for revenge, all the confidence and lust vanishes from Huma's face even as she continues the expressionless dance. And Varun, with a deadly look on his face, fondles Huma and then forces himself on her. Sheer revenge.
At the half-way stage, we see Varun drinking all alone in his home, crying over his loss. A slow romantic song playing in the background adds to his pain, and it reaches a peak when he starts imagining that he is dancing with his wife. Varun dancing all alone in the frame, as if the wife is with him is perhaps the most romantic, touching scene in Badlapur.
Towards the end, Varun murders Harman and his wife (Radhika Apte). He has invited himself to lunch at their house and asks Radhika to take a bath. When she comes out of the washroom, the whole bedroom is covered in plastic sheets and Varun attacks her with an axe! After killing her, he allows Vinay to discover the death for himself, wail over the wife and weep before hacking him to death as well. The whole sequence is spine-chlling to say the least.
Badlapur is likely to disappoint Sriram Raghavan fans. The brilliant performances and gripping narrative, nonetheless, will keep you hooked. Watch it for Nawazuddin and Varun Dhawan, if nothing else. Certainly worth your time and money.