Batla House (2019) Review!!

Synopsis – An action thriller based on the 2008 police encounter in Delhi’s Batla House.

My Take – After being in the industry for about 16 years, it looks like John Abraham has finally found his niche! Following the success of his second production venture, Madras Cafe, (the first being the delightful Vicky Donor) as an actor, John Abraham has been venturing out more towards multi-layer subjects which carry a semi-patriotic vibe to it, albeit mixed with the much needed commercial element to appease the masses, where he has seemed to have found a dedicated and growing fan following over the years.

His latest release, a Nikkhil Advani (Kal Ho Naa Ho, Salaam-E-Ishq, D-Day) directorial, also falls in the same range.

The film is based on the infamous police encounters known officially as Operation Batla House of September 19, 2008, in which two Indian Mujahideen terrorists were killed, two arrested, and one escaped in the Jamia Nagar shootout with officers of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police.

Touted as one of the grimmest events to ever hit India, over the years, the media has written immensely about the case, discussions ensued, protests followed, and judgements were passed. Here, director Advani, brings us a very dramatized and a surprisingly good look at the infamous case and focuses on what went on in the minds of the protagonists who helmed the encounters.

Yes, as one would expect, the film has its set of flaws, however the taut thriller is also tightly constructed, leaving you engaged right through, with its excellent pacing, hardnosed action, and an excellent performance from its lead in the form of a very sincere and likable John Abraham.

The story follows ACP Sanjeev Kumar Yadav (John Abraham), the head of Delhi Police’s Special Cell, who finds himself in trouble when an operation doesn’t go as planned. Due to the immense pressure to capture the perpetrators of the 2008 serial blasts, a team of officers led by Inspector KK Verma (Ravi Kishan), against Sanjeev’s orders, follow a tip and enter the Batla House locality in Jamia Nagar, and engage in a shootout with the suspects the matchbox-sized rental apartment.

However, when Sanjeev arrives, the encounter is at its closing with two terrorists and Verma already being killed. Shocked by the whole incident, a major outrage begins in the city, as the people of the Muslim community believe that the encounter was politicized and faked in order to release pressure on the special cell of the police, as the slain terrorists were supposedly students of the Jamia Millia Islamia University.

Questions are raised by the public, media, and political parties and Sanjeev bears the brunt of their wrath. To top it all, his marriage to Nandita (Mrunal Thakur), a journalist, has been crumbling adding to the PTSD Sanjeev has been suffering ever since one of the suspected terrorists fired a bullet at him. In order to prove the innocence of his team, the Special Cell have only one solution, capture one of the escaped suspects, Dilshad Ahmed (Sahidur Rahman).

The film starts off with a brisk pace, putting us right in the heat of the actual encounter that led to the entire case, following a short-lived drama between our leads and immediately makes apparent the way it intends to present itself.

The first thing you’ll notice about the film is its presentation and editing. Owing to the nature of its source, the film maintains a largely serious tone throughout, with only the odd moments of levity and a jarringly off-putting yet somehow important item song (O Saaki Saaki) being there to lighten the load. Director Advani understands the things expected of a film of this nature and has given a cut that never feels like its overlong or overstaying its welcome.

Getting into the politics of the film would like walking down a tunnel with no light, mainly as it chooses to tell the story mainly from the perspective of the lead character, a police officer who is still in service and who has won several awards, as a result, the audience cannot question the view it is looking at, turning ACP Sanjay Kumar’s dilemma is turned into ours.

Here, the police officer is not a fearsome, law enforcing cop seen in films like Singham or the John Abraham starrer Force who lifts up motorbikes to intimidate baddies and runs through concrete walls. Here he is battle-scarred and stony-faced throughout yet conveying the bitterness at being questioned about the supposed fake encounter by his department’s higher-ups and the Home Ministry.

Someone who expresses his disbelief when he is rewarded for the same encounter with the Gallantry Medal. Here, the characters are characters and placed in real situations. Unlike most films, it highlights the pressure of being a cop. Here, the film also takes us into a police officer’s recurring sense of dread at confronting the hallucinatory optics of seeing himself shot. The film’s portrayal of a battle with the ailment, the post-traumatic stress disorder, is very good.

The film also makes particular note of presenting NGOs who acted in defense of the accused terrorist and shows how some media outlets would spin the news, facts be damned, just for the sake of viewership.

The film features outstanding action sequences where you really feel the intensity and care for the characters. The shootouts and chases are both choreographed and shot with perfection. Here, director Nikkhil Advani has managed to upscale the film which manages to grasp your attention with the minor details in the setting of the whole film. And yes, they are really important on aesthetic value. For example the setting of the room where encounter took place.

Unfortunately, while the film tries not to take sides, the narrative is fairly black and white. A big reason for that would be the substandard treatment of the court proceedings in the final hour, which required a strong argument that a national case of this nature deserved.

This is partly because the defense counsel is played by an outrageous white wig wearing Rajesh Sharma (who is hamming dreadfully) and a judge who maintains inquisitive expression throughout and lacks a sense of authority. Even the monologue towards the end, while well intentioned, could’ve been more hard-hitting.

Nevertheless, John Abraham deserves praise for probably his finest performances of all time. His act is overwhelming especially because you see the human being behind the uniform. Apart from John, Mrunal Thakur serves as a strong female lead and in scenes between the two, she manages to capture most of your attention.

Ravi Kishan once again manages to leave a memorable impact in his small role. In supporting roles, Manish Chaudhari, Sahidur Rahman and Nora Fatehi also do well. On the whole, ‘Batla House’ is a gripping action thriller that has enough nail-biting and heart-pounding moments to keep you engaged throughout.

Directed – Nikkhil Advani

Starring – John Abraham, Nora Fatehi, Mrunal Thakur

Rated – PG15

Run Time – 146 minutes

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