Starring: Varun Dhavan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Divya Dutta, Radhika Apte, Yami Gautam, Vinay Pathak
Directed by Sriram Raghavan
Sriram Raghavan is the closest to a Hitchcock in Bollywood, in that his murders are much more than merely killings. Crime comes layered with philosophical concepts. So, if Hitchcock’s Psycho is as much about materialism and voyeurism as it is about Norman Bates slashing Marion Crane in the iconic shower scene, then Sriram’s Badlapur puts an accidental shooting and the ensuing tale of revenge and redemption in an elaborate, labyrinthine perspective. In Sriram’s hand a seemingly simple African proverb—‘the axe forgets, the tree remembers’—gets a layered interpretation. However, not as entirely successfully; more on paper, in the thought behind the film, rather than in its actual depiction on screen.
A bank robbery goes wrong and changes three lives irrevocably. That of Raghav (Varun Dhawan), who loses his wife and kid; of Laik (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who gets pronounced guilty for the crime, and of his partner in hiding. The first few minutes of the film are edge-of-the-seat thrilling and also deeply moving. It takes one back to Reema Kagti’s Talash, the story of a man trying to come to terms with his loss and grief. It is also anticipated in the reference to Daphne Du Murier’s story Don’t Look Now, turned into a film by Nicolas Roeg. The sadness and frustration of Varun are posited against the unbelievably banal talk of idli-dosa and juice of his unflustered parents. The food metaphor and the black humour go hand in hand. Especially the food to food cut, from the Mexican meal of Raghav’s family to the jail ka khana of Laik.
The film is like a boxing match between two actors—Varun and Nawaz—with Nawaz easily coming up trumps in the kind of role he could now well be getting typecast in. Besides the protagonist and the antagonist, Sriram sketches even the minutest of characters in detail. Be it the cop shadowing Nawaz or the new lover (Zakir Hussain) of Laik’s girlfriend Jhimli (Huma Qureshi) in merely two scenes. And he has a bunch of superb actors—from Divya and Radhika to Huma and Vinay—to make the ensemble work. Kumud Mishra as the inspector on the case and Pratima Kazmi as Laik’s mom stand out.
But who is the real criminal here, one who does it in the heat of the moment or one who commits a crime in a cold, calculated manner? Who is seeking revenge and who has the generosity to grant forgiveness? And who eventually gets redemption? By the end of it, axe and tree don’t quite seem like what they are, the criminal and the victim becoming two sides of the same coin.
The narrative gets too cramped and blotchy at times. Moments that could have been more dramatic get so understated that the audience may have trouble hearing them. On the other hand, at the very end, things are laid out too literal when they should have been left unsaid.