Mumbai, 15 Aug 2019 6:00 IST
Though the encounter itself takes place at the beginning, the John Abraham-starrer gathers momentum in the second half.
Director Apoorva Lakhia’s Shootout At Lokhandwala (2007) was based on the real encounter killing of a group of gangsters led by Dawood Ibrahim's ace shooter Mahendra 'Maya' Dolas (played by Vivek Oberoi) by a team of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) headed by the flamboyant police officer Aftab Ahmed Khan (played by Sanjay Dutt). The ATS officers were accused of staging the encounter and had to face humiliation, apart from a trial.
The story of director Nikkhil Advani’s Batla House is similar in some respects. The film is based on the infamous Batla House encounter of 2008. Days after a bomb blast in Delhi, DCP Sanjay Kumar Yadav (John Abraham) learns of the presence of a few suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorists hiding in Batla House, located in South Delhi, while he is going through the turmoil of separation from his wife Nandita (Mrunal Thakur), a journalist.
Before he reaches the site, his colleague Kishan Kumar (Ravi Kishan) leads a mission and gets hit in firing by the suspects (he later dies of his injuries). Sanjay Kumar then leads the mission in which two suspects are killed. This sets off a round of media trials and agitations by rights activists, members of the Muslim community, and students and professors of the college in which the dead youths were studying.
Multiple gallantry award-winner Sanjay gets labelled a murderer. On top of that, he faces pressure from his own department and the ruling party.
Despite the similarities, it would be foolish to accuse Batla House of copying the 2007 movie just because it is also inspired by a real incident. There are major changes in the story structure. For instance, while the encounter in Shootout At Lokhandwala takes place in the penultimate moments, Batla House starts off with the incident.
The makers have made it clear in the disclaimer that Batla House is not a documentary and they have added drama and fiction. In one of the interviews leading up to the release, John said the film is a fictional account born out of the 2008 encounter.
This is indeed the case as the film's writers have gone on to take a lot of 'creative' liberties. The good thing is that the film doesn’t pretend to be anything but an entertainer. There isn’t a dull moment, except on a few occasions in the first half. For example, the whole incident of John and his team disobeying orders and heading off to Nizampur to catch a suspect looks silly both in logic and execution.
Amidst the commercialization, Batla House also touches upon the psychological impact of such incidents on the police, who are also human beings.
Mainstream Hindi films are many a time guilty of losing steam in the second half. But Batla House is an exception. The narrative actually gains momentum after the interval and holds your attention throughout.
Over the past few years, John Abraham has been exploring films that deal with serious national issues like Madras Cafe (2013), Parmanu (2017), Satyameva Jayate (2018) and RAW (2019). What was noteworthy in all these was that John appears to know his limitations as an actor and works within them.
The same is seen in Batla House. Barring a few occasions, John carries his part with conviction. He makes a mark in some emotional moments too. Mrunal Thakur was hardly there in the recently released Super 30 (2019). She has a much meatier part here and succeeds in displaying her acting chops.
Batla House also has fine performances by Ravi Kishan, who is memorable despite playing a cameo, Manish Chaudhary and Rajesh Sharma.
In real life, the Delhi high court rejected the demand for a judicial probe into the Batla House case and accepted the findings of the National Human Rights Commission, which gave a clean chit to the Delhi police. Pursuing this would have been interesting in the movie. Instead, what we see is the hero displaying his heroism.
But this doesn’t come as a surprise since Advani makes it clear at the beginning that this is a commercial saga. In other words, Batla House is for those who do not mind watching a massy affair created out of a real incident.
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