These are the issues that Badlapur talks about. It starts with a terrible crime. Raghu (Varun Dhawan) loses all in a robbery gone wrong. A robber (Nawaz) is arrested and jailed. How is out hero going to fulfill his vengeance now? The rest of the film dwells on that.
There was a horrid film called Ek Villain. It was inspired by a Korean film called I Saw The Devil. A superbly crafted creepy tale of revenge. Badlapur is close to that film. Not copied. Not at all. Just evoking the same eternal things about vengeance. You stop to notice what you are becoming.
Varun Dhavan is brave in choosing this film. Not just because he plays a problematic character but because this is a challenging role. He excels. It is easy to go from silent and brooding to wooden. Varun doesn’t.
But his is not a solitary performance. This film has excellent cast. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Qureishi, Vinay Pathak, Divya Dutta, Pratima Kazmi, Yami Gautam, Radhika Apte… The acting talent there is immense. Even an unknown actor, playing a distraught mother looking at her dead daughter’s photos, was immensely effective.
Which brings us to the Sutradhar, the man behind the curtain Sriram Raghavan. He created two of the best Hindi thrillers of recent times: Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddar. This time he goes for the soul of characters. Dissecting at the good, the bad and their boundaries. This has the look of an atmospheric film, and what atmosphere. The setup is superbly etched, finely crafted, and very real. Living spaces of people look lived in, the jail is not at all like any jail you’ve seen in Indian films. But the focus, rightly, is on the people who inhabit these spaces.
The people are not divided between the good and the bad, but every heart is. The people in the film behave as humans would, and sometimes as humans shouldn’t. And thats what the film is about. What is owed to you when you are a victim? And what is do you owe when you are a perpetrator? What is an adequate revenge?
I started with questions, and I end with it. But the film maker is really clear. The film gives answers, which are not always comfortable. And I can give one answer unequivocally. This is 2015’s first great film.
PS: This was as much as I could write without spoiling the film. But if you have watched it, or if you don’t mind being spoiled, read below for an analysis of the conclusions this film draws.
Loss of Innocence
The film starts with a simple good v/s evil story. Evil robbers kill innocent mother and child. The pain of the distraught husband is palpable. There can’t be anyone whose heart doesn’t go out to him. And there can’t be anyone on the side of the slimy, smooth talking criminal who gets arrested. The beauty of the film is how your sympathies switch.
Slowly, gradually. And most importantly, without the guys changing their character. Nawaz and Vinay Pathak seem like a bunch of hardened criminals deserving punishment. They are revealed, without changing their character, to be bumbling harmless desperate guys who didn’t intend to hurt anyone.
The character of Varun Dhavan starts as a hero, looking for vengeance. But soon descends into hurting the innocents himself. His abuse of Huma’s character I think defined his turn to the dark side. He is willing to punish someone who has not wronged him. As he did spectacularly with the characters of Vinay Pathak and Radhika Apte. It’s obvious that neither of them are criminals. They are scared shitless. They don’t have any connections that can “take care” of this pesky guy seeking revenge. They just surrender. And he kills them in cold blood. Then he is pure evil.
The film is also magnificent in changing our views of a character. The social worker played by Divya Dutta seems like a typical bleeding heart who cares more about the criminals than their victims. So sure we are that the character of Nawaz hasn’t changed.
And it does look like he hasn’t changed. And you hate her for her gullibility. You hate him for being so slimy. And slowly you realize that he wasn’t that evil to begin with. This is the stuff proper literature is made of. That is up on screen.
The theme of revenge turning you into a monster is not new. The treatment and its subtlety is new. This is film will have a long life. Will surely keep revisiting it.