Synopsis – A dynamic young entrepreneur finds herself locked in a hotel room with the corpse of her dead lover. She hires a prestigious lawyer to defend her and they work together to figure out what actually happened.
My Take – Suspense thrillers are a tricky genre, mainly as they are required to engage and challenge the viewers by setting up a premise that keeps the audience guessing right till the end. Unfortunately, Bollywood filmmakers have over the years managed to miss more than hit when it comes to playing with a complicated plot that may or may not suit the standards set by the Indian audience.
However, this Sujoy Ghosh directed film right from its promos seemed like a promising win. Though his professional career as a writer and director has been through an indifferent run, Ghosh still receives deserving credited for his 2012 Vidya Balan starrer, Kahaani. A mind blowing thriller which adapted floating ideas from various Hollywood films, and relied on a fake narrative, to keeping the audience guessing till the end credits rolled in. And thankfully, this film is no different.
Backed by Shah Rukh Khan‘s Red Chillis Entertainment, this official adaptation of the 2017 Spanish thriller Contratiempo aka The Invisible Guest contains all the elements of a ground breaking thriller, which cemented Ghosh‘s position as a master storyteller. Just like Kahaani, this film too is sleek, as gripping from the first scene and keeps you guessing right till the end.
However, the film’s biggest strength comes with the casting of its two primary characters, Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu, who are back together on screen following their massively successful stint in Pink (2016). Here, the two get the best of dialogues and make sure to elevate it with their strong performance and terrific screen presence.
The story follows Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu), a successful married entrepreneur, who finds herself accused of murdering Arjun Joseph (Tony Luke), a photographer with whom she was having an affair with, and whose body was found in a hotel room. With everything going against her, upon the insistence of Jimmy Punjabi (Manav Kaul), her lawyer and trusted confidant, she hires Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan), a prestigious defense attorney, who, in his 40 years of career, has never lost a case.
With a new witness supposedly speaking to the prosecution, Badal informs Naina that she has three hours to come up with a reliable story in order to avoid jail time. He insists on full disclosure and she insists on building trust. While Naina presents her version of the truth, Badal is convinced there is more, and continues to tease out possibilities to test her defense.
This is a revenge drama where characters aren’t set till the end, you keep getting shocks on alternate occasions asking yourself that who is the protagonist and who is antagonist? Within the first ten minutes, the film just gets in your head. The mind-bogglingly convoluted written script forces you to think too many things but how many of your predictions get true, as director Ghosh through his magical direction hides many twists under his hat revealing them at the very right time.
As the setting for the most part is a small room, the film is a busy fare. Largely centered on one conversation between Badal and Naina, here, director Ghosh and editor Monisha R. Baldawa quickly segues to flashbacks, introducing characters, setting up stakes and, being faithful to the genre, teasing possibilities at the same time increasingly complex and deliciously messy. Various versions of the same story are narrated to us. As a viewer, one is totally invested in trying to found out which version seems the most probable.
What keeps the storytelling engaging is this tit for tat game between the accused and the lawyer which keeps up with the tempo of the screenplay. The dialogues are kept contemporary, dropping several hints for those who were equally invested to decode the murder mystery. ‘A lie told for a bigger cause, is not a lie’ preached Mahabharata and it is no coincidence that director Sujoy decided to plug in several references to the mythological epic. The layered humor also crack us up in between, but before we dwell too much into laughter, director Sujoy Ghosh doesn’t let us dwindle from the main plot.
Apart from the story, it’s also the ‘importance of minute details’ in the screenplay that makes the film shine dimmer (given the tense mood). There are multiple moments that will entangle your mind-wires, but you’ll lose by the time the ‘father’ of all twists appears in the climax. Yes, how a vintage thriller can be adroitly mixed with modern technology is beautifully shown in this classic drama where the final revelation will give a jolt to those who have never experienced the original or are not hardcore thriller addicts.
While I did have a suspicion about the final denouement midway, but even as I was gratified that I was not off the mark about the character. As I have been a thriller addict since forever, the real and the most interesting part of the story lay in how and why it all unraveled, and how it was shown.
Here, Avik Mukhopadhyay shoots the English countryside with melancholic hues, painting his frames with bleak, overcast skies that further heighten the character’s moral ambiguity. The background score of the film also perfectly captures the tension of the room. The sudden silence turns into electro-fusion elevating essence of the scenes. Thankfully, there were no songs to ruin the airtight pace.
But, in the end it all boils down to if you have seen the original film (I haven’t), as I have been informed that the film happens to be an almost scene to scene remake than a loose adaption, with just gender swapping being the novel inclusions. Also, like the norm of every suspense/thriller/revenge drama, there’s always far too much willing suspension of disbelief required.
Plotting an act of revenge, that too a seamless one, without leaving any trace for the police to track you down or for the bad guy to turn around and pin you, requires skill. What makes ordinary people, living ordinary lives with age lines to cover and deadlines to meet turn into Sherlock Homes instantly is something I could never quite grasp. The film will leave you asking the same question, briefly, that is until Sujoy Ghosh‘s effective direction makes you see only what he wants you to see.
Reuniting, Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu, was a brilliant decision, simply because it gives the audience an instant connect, and the two elevate the film with their performances. As always, Amitabh Bachchan is at the top of his game. Here he looks sharp and edgy and delivers performance on similar lines. With his inborn quirks, he manages to pull off this complex role at pretty much ease. It surely will go down as one of his memorable recent performances.
Matching him at every step is Taapsee Pannu, who is completely in the zone here. A natural actor who doesn’t get much due for her performances, once again delivers an easy-to-judge but difficult-to-act performance. While AB and Taapsee are the technically the leads of the film, its Amrita Singh who is the real winner in the drama. Singh, who has always excelled in every role throughout her career, reveals remarkable control over her craft as she shifts between a grieving mother and a deeply vengeful woman.
In supporting roles, Tony Luke, Tanveer Ghani and Manav Kaul also fill in the required voids. On the whole, ‘Badla’ is an engaging and intriguing thriller that is both deliciously entertaining and outstandingly performed.
Directed – Sujoy Ghosh
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 118 minutes