How cold does it have to be for revenge to be served sizzling hot? ‘Badlapur’, Sriram Raghavan’s latest, is a mixed bag of a movie: it has a cracking set-up, a middle with the occasional unsettling prod, and an end which fizzles.
A bank heist goes horrifyingly wrong, resulting in the death of innocents. One robber gets away, the other (Nawazudin Siddiqui) is caught and incarcerated. And the young man (Varun Dhawan) whose cosy, comfortable life is overturned by the incident, vows ‘badla’.
In the way it opens, ‘Badlapur’ is so riveting you don’t even want to blink. You watch, heart in mouth, willing the critically injured to keep breathing. You are hooked, by a beginning which is such a brutal shocker that you cannot wait to see how this tale of darkness and promised destruction will pan out.
The rest of the tale is choppy, sometimes leaping off the screen with the right degree of unpredictability, bringing us back to the edge of our seats again, and then letting us off. The look is all lush noir-thriller and transfers instantly, but getting the feel across feels like a stretch.
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Varun Dhawan playing Raghu, the clean-cut professional who is forced to wait for years to get his ‘badla’, brings an initially believable youthful vulnerability to his part. It’s the man that he becomes, dumping the trappings of his upwardly mobile life till then, turning into a vengeful, calculating character that I had difficulty swallowing: the young fellow-madly-in-love-with-his-wife-and-child we have seen till then suggests sessions-in-therapy to get over tragedy rather than violent vigilantism. Even so, Varun Dhawan does get a few things right, and when he does, you can see his potential especially when he expresses a killing rage, and a crafty stare; but there are other places where he flattens. So does the movie.
Plot contrivances in this kind of a tale are a requirement. You are meant to be surprised by the twists, by the anything-can- happen-anytime edge. But ‘Badlapur’ comes off too contrived in many places, and leaves us hanging in others.
What keeps us watching is Sriram Raghavan’s rare skills in infusing empathy into not particularly likeable people, murderers even. And a bunch of actors having a blast, Nawazuddin in particular. We know he is vamping, we know is acting out, but the slate-eyed swagger that he gets to a T, makes his highly-dramatised criminal a treat. Radhika Apte, who shows up in the second half, all big eyes and understated smoulder, is a stand-out too.
‘Badlapur’ takes a stab at an underlying theme which runs parallel to the revenge motif: can forgiveness, even for the most heinous of crimes, come with time; and, as a corollary, what, after all, is revenge? But the film doesn’t explore these fundamental questions with the kind of depth it could have. What is left is a bunch of jugular-grabbing explosive scenes, which make you sigh for the film this could have been. It should have left us scorched; it doesn’t. For me, ‘Johnny Gaddar’ is still the film Raghavan has to scale.