Badlapur

Director: Sriram Raghavan

Good fiction enables you to empathize with its characters, good and bad. Lets you live their lives. Think their thoughts. Stand in their shoes. Get under their skins.

So imagine you have lost you father when young and have been brought up by your mother. It’s been a hard life. You have turned out to be a badass character. Lived a life of crime,  in and out of jail. Out of jail, one day, you return home late. Your mother gives you a piece of her mind. Says, “You are no good. Just like your father.”  “Mom. Are there any good things about my father you remember?” you ask. Your mother is silent. “Just one thing,” you prod her. Your mother replies, “ Woh purana chawal se keeda nikalne se kya phayada?” (What good will it do to dig out insects from an old sack of rice?) You are struck by a sledge hammer. Not one good thing she can think about my father!

Life changing, the thought can be. ( You will know the context better when you see the film.)

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And it changes Badlapur, from perhaps the smartest Hindi film script ever, to a piece of poetry.

Brings to mind Anurag Kashyap. You know, his films…they are brilliant prose… I think. But Sriram Raghavan’s ‘ Bdlapur’…it is poetry. Because what Kashayp says in ten pages of description, Raghavan does in one line of metaphor. Make no mistake. Kashyap’s ramblings, his indulgences, are fun. It’s just that Raghavan is crisper, leaving you with a sharper, well-aimed impact.

Another thought on the film: There are a set of directors I like Hirani, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Barjatya ( only Hum Aapke Hain Koun..?) in whose films everyone is good. Even the bad characters. ( The worst thing about bad woman Bindu in HAHK is that she wears loud clothes.)  And there is Kashyap, in whose films..from Paanch to Ugly…. everyone is bad. But what Sriram Raghavan does here is even more interesting. In Badlapur you see good people do things you won’t have imagined even  the bad people capable of and the bad people, perhaps just once in a while,  come up with acts of shining good. And mind you, none of them will strike you as acting out of character.

I won’t tell you anything more about the film per se because I want you to see it as pre-conceived  as possible.  But may be a few more rambling observations. I am struck by how the makers of noir  films come up  with the most interesting female characters. Think of the Richa Chadda and Huma Qureshi characters in Gangs of Wasseypur. Or Vidya Balan in Isqiya and Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi in Dedh Ishqiya. Or the Tejaswini Kolhapure character in Ugly, And this film has a whole sorority of them: Huma Qureshi ( again!),  Divya Dutta , and the heartbreakingly innocent and symbol of pure goodness in the film, Radhika Apte. (She was so effective in Shor in the City; and she is even more effective here. ) And then there is Yami Gautami. She doesn’t have much to do. But then a ray of morning sun doesn’t have much to do either, except shine on bright, right?

And this thread of thought takes me to the performances. What does one talk of when one talks of Nawazuddin Siddiqi? Craft of acting? Perhaps not. One can find a hundred flaws. Range? No. One can say he is limited and pull out fifty roles he cannot play. Genius? Perhaps, yes. How else can one explain how and why does what he does? (Think of his sudden turn at mimicking  the lame jail mate, if you have seen the film. Or how, when his mother exclaims at seeing him turn up at home from jail unexpectedly, “ Tum toh kal aane wale thay?” he does a quick about turn to say “ Toh kal aata hoon’, befote turning again to hug his mother. ) A hypnotic shaman. Yes, yes. Try taking your eyes off him when he is on screen.

Then there is Varun Dhawan. This is only his fourth film and his act is a good act.  It is  that kind of a performance where more than individual components of a performance – diction, delivery, timing, body language, etc, etc. – what you marvel at is his ability to become the character he is playing and make you buy in his actions that are clearly outside the spectrum of a normalcy. Like Shahid in Haider, Varun too makes his descent into maniacal  and murderous violence here believable, not through some clever tools of method acting, but perhaps by just internalizing the character.  By just being Raghu. All the women in the film as well as the man who plays the police inspector investigating the case and Vinay Pathak as Harman are consistently  engaging with compelling  performances.

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The film has some beautiful songs, used unobtrusively and weaved in seamlessly into the narrative. The cinematography is excellent. So it is really a good case of a film  being  enriched by contributions from all departments, as it should be. . But in the end it is a triumph of great writing. The kind of writing that would be good writing even if it was not a film.

Consistent with its contrarian streak, the film, though apparently a story of revenge,  actually makes a case  for forgiveness. It brings to my mind a line from Tagore’s Shyama , where the protagonist who could have, but did not forgive the sinner, says to God , “ I am sure YOU  will forgive the sinner, but you will   not forgive my not being able to forgive.” Or something to that effect. That is what Nawazzudin was leading Varun to realize during their final interaction.

PS: This is the script Aamir should have picked up instead of Talaash, the gimmicky mess.

Why Aamir should have done Badlapur instead of Talaash.

Well, maybe he would have spoiled what has turned out to be such a landmark film. But that’s the challenge he should have taken.

Firstly, good though Varun is, there are many gaps in the perforamnce that only an experienced actor could have filled up. And the age transition would have worked out perfect. Raghu, 30 at the start of the film, married 5 years back when he was 25. Fifteen years later, for the second part of the film, he would have been 45, very close to his real age. Would have looked so natural and convincing.

Secondly, it is a far meatier role than the one in Talaash. There so many scenes of Varun in Badlapur that one remembers. What do I remember of Aamir in Talaash?. Only his moustache. And his scowl.

Thirdly, the female characters in Badlapur are so much more interesting than Rani and Kareena in Talaash. And the hero has meaningful and interesting interaction with each one of them – Yami, Huma, Divya and Radhika – and each interaction is different, each relationship is different.

Fourth, it would have been a true noir film instead of a fake one like Talaash.

Fifth, the role would have stretched Aamir as a star, and as an actor. The things he does to Huma, Divya, or Radhika wouldn’t have been accepted by the audience, conventional wisdom says. But challenging that is what true dare is about. And risky though it is, it also could have had a big pay-off if Aamir could pull it off. Like Ghajini dd.

And he could have just softened his badness a bit by making Raghu realise the futility of revenge in the end and could be inconsolable in his realization of how much harm he has done to everyone he came in contact with due to his inability to forgive.

That would have been good for the film too.

It IS a landmark film already, with Aamir it would have been a huge landmark …… If he had pulled it off.

If not?

Well, it won’t have been any worse than Talaash.

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