Mumbai, 08 Mar 2019 14:16 IST
The thriller, directed by Sujoy Ghosh, is a enjoyable, but predictable battle of wits between its leads, Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu.
Revenge is a dish best served cold. That's the phrase that comes to mind immediately after watching Sujoy Ghosh's latest film, Badla, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu. An adaptation of the 2016 Spanish film Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest), Badla interestingly switches up the genders of the protagonists.
Therefore, Pannu steps into the role of Naina Sethi, a rising star and entrepreneur under house arrest and out on bail for the murder of her lover Arjun (Tony Luke). She employs the services of an advocate Badal Gupta, played by Amitabh Bachchan, to help strengthen her case and prove her innocence. Much of the two-hour film rests on the she said-he said banter between the two characters and artistes. In the original, the lawyer was female and the accused, a male.
Gupta has to understand Sethi's version of events and help frame a defense that can push off the guilt from his client and onto another suspect. When the two characters first meet, it takes them a while to warm up to each other. Naina understandably is defiant and vulnerable, while Badal is self-assured in his capabilities as an advocate. But for the most part, he acts as a stand-in for the audience, who has to take in Naina's improbable story of being framed for murder, in a locked room, with no other suspect in sight.
It's a scenario right out of an Agatha Christie novel. Indeed, the setting for the murder, Glenmore Hotel, tucked away in the Scottish mountains, feels completely right for a Christie novel. But no Hercule Poirot pops up here to pick the clues, instead, we have to deduce the 'truth' of what really happened based on a character, Naina, who maybe withholding information to save herself.
It is up to Bachchan's character and us, the audience, to sort through the truth within the lies, and lies within the truth.
Ghosh's most popular feature from his filmography is Kahaani (2012), a film that will draw comparisons to Badla. His lead character Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan), like Naina, supported a shifting narrative to find the truth. But unlike in Kahaani, the twists and turns in the tale won't floor you. For one, if you've watched a decent number of murder mysteries and American crime series, you've got a fair idea of what's in store.
But Ghosh succeeds in adapting writer-director Oriol Paulo's story and giving it an Indian context and heft, even though it's set in Scotland. A tale of revenge exceeds languages, at heart, the emotions are the same, a family member wanting justice for their loved one. Be that as it may, the coincidence that there are Indian-origin people just waiting to speak Hindi to everyone they come in contact with should just be retired.
And yet, the coincidences pile on, and remember, the devil is in the details, and especially in the second half, the tight narrative seems to come undone slightly. Pannu and Bachchan, reuniting after Pink (2016), are back in the roles of lawyer and client. Their scenes and dialogues together make the film - the battle for the truth has the right banter with Badal's constant doubts and Naina's continued defensiveness.
The rest of the cast from Tony Luke, Amrita Singh, Tanveer Ghani, and Manav Kaul make important appearances in flashbacks. Singh is especially convincing as a grieving mother out to seek justice. However, Malayalam actor Tony struggles with his Hindi and fits less plausibly in Ghosh's film. Likewise, British-Asian actor Ghani seems out of place in the film.
But since a large part of Badla is Bachchan-Pannu, there are times where they carry the film and times where they don't. The first half is crisp and fast moving, while the second half predictably drags. The final few minutes drag the film back into Hindi film land from the Spanish film origins.
This Badla is enjoyable, but in the end, too predictable as the many versions of the truth wear you down.
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