In Juan José Campanella’s El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret In Their eyes), Esposito asks, “How do you live a life full of nothing?”. He is talking about many things but he is also talking about the man whose wife was brutally raped and killed, a case that has consumed the life of Esposito and the people closest to him. The Secret In Their Eyes is not a revenge story. It is there but the film deals with many other existential and psychological issues the characters go through. And there is that slow burn for a big if not-so-unpredictable but just as hard hitting third act. Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur is your everyday revenge story. But it doesn’t follow the first-this-happened-then-this-then-he-went-on-a-rampage story. This is also a slow burn. But it focuses more on the how than the why and the what.
Raghavan’s idea to build it all up for a rousing finish is apparent from the very first frame. We see a snatch of everyday life, the camera glued on the road from across a bank. People crossing, some carefully, some not so carefully. A tired traffic police officer looking for the owner of the car parked in no parking zone, calling for the tow vehicle to move it away. Then we see Misha and her son and something not so mundane happens. That’s really what Badlapur is about. How otherwise normal people and their everyday lives become something more. Raghavan tries to establish that there is nothing other worldly about the proceedings and he decides to be patient about it. It works. For two thirds of the film you wonder why did this receive an ‘A’ rating from the censor board but then you brush it away because recent events have established what our censor board really stands for. Or doesn’t.
The women in Badlapur suffer due to the dogged vision of the men. They are either physically harmed or emotionally abused in the hands of relentless men. This is almost a theme for every male character in the film. While it is Raghu (Varun Dhawan) who is on a mission to avenge what happened to his wife and son, the women in the life of these men are directly or indirectly affected. And the women are all trying to save their men. There is Jhumli (Huma Qureshi) whom Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) loves more than anyone or anything in the world. There is his mother played beautifully by Pratima Kazmi. There is Koko (Radhika Apte) who is Harman’s (Vinay Pathak) wife who will go to any length to save her man. And there is Shobha (Divya Dutta) who is used in the most boorish manner.
There are other familiar Raghavan instincts throughout the film. A Tamil speaking character. A film buff and references to pulp and mainstream Hindi cinema. There is a lot of intentional comedy smartly placed within warped narratives. He wants you to feel for Raghu but in the end tries to change your mind. Varun Dhawan tries valiantly to fit in and almost succeeds. Siddiqui is predictably the performer of the film underplaying where needed and scenery chewing where he can. A couple of talented actors like Ashwini Kalsekar and Radhika Apte are wasted in small roles. He focuses on the gratifying foreplay but it turns a bit flaccid by the time climax arrives. For all that extended second act, surely there is more, you wonder. There is still a play on moralities and the satisfaction of the revenge, if any. And that question about, “How do you live a life full of nothing?“. But one can’t help but feel that it is not fully realized. There is an axe, an African proverb about that axe and most of the rounds are a knockout but there is a minor issue of the missing punch.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)