Generally I have the habit of tapping away my thoughts on the keyboard as soon as I finish watching an impactful movie or reading a thought provoking book. But this time it is different. Having watched Sujoy Ghosh’s highly recommended suspense thriller “Badla”, I am still collecting my thoughts on how I have received the thrills. Not that I am averse to the genre. On the contrary, its my favourite. But coming out of the PVR I was more disturbed than entertained. As a matter of fact, it is this bothersome reaction that prevented me from vocalising my views on the film.
Undoubtedly, it is an edge-of-the-seat-narrative. But knowing Sujoy Ghosh (Kahaani Part I and Part II), the direction the plot would take was pretty predictable. More so, because the gentleman who sat next to next to my seat was quite loud about his conjectures on what must be the plausible conclusions (mind it he had quite a few) of the twisty tale. Frankly, I was neither irritated nor amused because to my surprise I rather agreed on certain points that he so casually dropped. Also, certain theories that he propounded at deducing the mystery incidentally matched mine. Interestingly, this is the first time it has so happened that one of the spectators has given in to loud thinking ( a national trait?) as to what would be the possible ending of a murder mystery.
Notwithstanding the exception, Badla opens the door to an alternate narrative which is so far removed from reality that in a contrarian perspective it becomes relatable. Confusing? May be. So let’s begin from the very beginning. Celebrated business woman, Neha Sethi (Taapsee Pannu) is charged of murder in a closed room wherein only she is present with the victim (Arjun – Tony Luke). Obviously, she pleads innocence. But suspicion thickens on her as it is gradually revealed that the murdered person is none other than the one with whom she was having an illicit affair. Naina’s husband does not believe in her innocence. By the way nor does the audience. She is abandoned by her family (husband and baby daughter). However, Naina’s lawyer, Jimmy Punjabi (Manav Kaul), who is also her friend from college days, goes all out of his way to defend her. Seeing the complexity of the case, he hires a senior advocate, Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan), to fight for Naina.
The entire movie revolves round the dialogu-ic interaction between Naina and Badal Gupta in an endeavour to rake out the delicate details so that Naina’s innocence can be proved beyond doubt. Undoubtedly, both excel in hiding as well as exposing the truth and this cat and mouse game between Naina and Badal Gupta becomes the pivotal theme of the narrative. Needless to say, this mind game is heightened by the towering performance by the one and only Big B and the understated execution by Taapsee Pannu who is at the same time the protagonist as well as the antagonist of the narrative. Knowingly or unknowingly, Sujoy Ghosh has deftly engaged the audience as the third party in this crossword-puzzle-like-truth-seeking-game. And it is here that the magic of a tightly scripted whodunnit has hobbled.
When cinema poignantly portrays reality, the narrative becomes relatable because the audience finds an experiential one-ness with the drama enfolding on the silver screen. In case of Badla, it is just the opposite. The implausibility of the proposition that the plot offers is so stark and so sharply swerves from what we actually experience in our day to day dealings that it loses popular sympathy. Here a stage is elaborately set to catch the culprit based on the premise that once truth pops out of the bag justice would be done. But does that really happen in real life? Seldom. We know our administrative system is so labyrinthine in protocol that truth gets lost somewhere in the draconian slushpile of fat files.
But as it may be rightly pointed out that there is always a parallel narrative between cinema and reality. It is this parallel narration which invokes faith, hope and optimism. And as my sister so sagely puts it a story should be seen as a story only. But does that mean “Badla” has nothing to offer? No. That’s not true. It offers excellent grip on the storyline. Though translated into celluloid it has the mesmeric of a riveting stage play. The characters are well-etched. The direction is tight and you can hardly find a lose end in the screenplay. Above all, the splendid chemistry between the two pivotal characters of the story, Mr. Bachhan and Ms. Pannu works wonders for the script.
But above all these, what Badla underscores is the ruthlessness of the crime. It is not whodunnit but howdunnit which takes the centre stage. The appalling savagery involved in the whole act, in this instance, not a single but a double murder, is made home in an understated yet graphic lucidity which is the USP of this movie. And mind. you, here the viciousness of the crime is more cerebral than physical. How it is hatched on the spur of the moment indicates a barbarism which is inborn and not an impulsive act of self defence.
More discomforting is the culprit’s extreme methods to evade the law proving once more that be it any part of the world its the perpetrator of heinous crimes who roams at large with collars up while the ones victimised run in vain from pillar to post in search of justice. Given this sorry state of affairs, in the movie, the victim, Rani Kaur’s (Amrita Singh) gritty statement that the one sloshed with power does not know his fall is imminent seems like a heavy-weight utopian proclammation.
Last but not the least, while the pivotal characters straddle one continent to the other, in the backdrop of an international set up, apart from the cops, the characters only look up their Indian counterparts to solve a macabre mystery of lust, lies and power. Do I call that a jarring note or the sudden blaze of patriotism?
All Pics from Google