Sriram Raghavan is a good filmmaker, there is no doubt in it. His movies had always been worth a trip to the cinemas, to say the least. But whilst many have categorised him as being as among the better filmmakers in the current crop in Bollywood, none would have seen Badlapur coming, including me.
Badlapur starts like a normal edge-of-your seat thriller. It starts with a bang, almost instantly, and the story is thrown into the deep end. You are expecting a relentlessly paced movie towards the end. And just when you are thinking this story will move at breakneck speed, Sriram changes tracks, quite drastically. Nothing prepares you for the 15-year time lapse.
You start watching the movie thinking this is an epic revenge drama (just as the title suggests) revolving around Raghu (Varun Dhawan), who is seeking to avenge the tragic death of his wife Misha (Yami Gautam) and son Robin at the hands of a couple of bank robbers. But halfway through the movie, Sriram is not basing his movie on Raghu alone, but also the man Raghu is seeking to avenge- Laik (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).
Badlapur is not about one man, but about two men- who start off squaring each other with a fine line of bad and good separating each other, but over the course of the movie, have their roles ever so subtly reversed. By the end of the movie, as you see how the animalistic instinct for revenge had transformed Raghu, you begin to cringe, you begin to feel disgust. You are no longer rooting for him- in fact, it is Laik’s story that leaves the most poignance and reflection as you leave the cinema halls.
Probably, the story isn’t about revenge alone- it’s about transformation. Badla means revenge, but the wording can also mean change. People change- some for the better, some for the worse. And the fact that the protagonist of the film, Raghu, wanders off alone and goes to stay in a place called Badlapur all by himself to spend a whopping 15 years alone is a brilliant play of semantics to indicate the depths of human transformation that the film is exploring.
As an excited film watcher, you tend to use words like brilliant or wonderful to describe the performances in a film. I choose not to use such words here, because almost every performance was flawless.
Who knew Varun Dhawan, who is only a few films old and is known to flaunt his muscles and not so much for his dramatic scope, could bring that amount of dramatic depth to a character that is literally a walking corpse after having lost his wife and only son?
But then, Badlapur works in a larger part due to Nawazuddin Siddqui, who, once again, delivers a masterful performance. His timing, his dialogue delivery, and his body language is impeccable. There is no doubt about Siddiqui’s talent and acting ability, and he proves that once again here.
Pratima Kazmi, as Liak’s mother, and Ashwini Kalsekar, in a brief appearance as a private detective, were the standout female performances in the film. Radhika Apte had a better share of dramatic moments compared to two other leading ladies of the film- Huma Qureshi and Yami Gautam.
Yami’s role is pedestrian, the one you would have seen in many other movies before this, and Huma plays a prostitute with some finesse.
Vinay Pathak is absolutely engrossing in his brief moments as Liak’s partner in crime, and for once, he wasn’t even attempting to be funny.
Kumud Mishra is the surprise package, the way his character was so pedestrian the whole movie, and explodes in complete angst and disbelief in the penultimate scene after having tracked the case for 15 gruelling years as a cop.
Sachin Jigar’s music was good, but the background music was where their contribution was invaluable to the mood of the movie.
But this is Sriram Raghavan’s movie, make no mistake about it. The casting was right, the setting was fabulous, the mood was dark, and he made us root for the hero and then cringe at him at the latter stages. It was like giving a bitter pill to the audiences to digest as the movie wore on.
No one would have seen this coming- Sriram was good, but very few would have predicted him to be as good an auteur as he had shown himself to be with Badlapur.
This is without doubt Sriram’s best movie to date- and the fact that this movie is also a financial success, is a signal that the being dark and moody is not necessarily unprofitable in this huge industry.
I could only compare Badlapur with three other highly rated movies of my choice- Imitiaz Ali’s Highway, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider, and Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly. And that’s something.
Welcome to the league of geniuses, Sriram.