Banners: Red Chillies Entertainment, Azure Entertainment
Producers: Gauri Khan, Sunir Kheterpal, Akshai Puri
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Amrita Singh, Manav Kaul, Tony Luke, Tanveer Ghani
Writers: Oriol Paolo (Original story), Sujoy Ghosh (Adapted Screenplay and Dialogue), Raj Vasant (Dialogue)
Music: Clinton Cerejo, Anupam Roy, Amaal Mallik
What do you get when you have two stellar actors, a fantastic script and a director with a knack for thrillers? You get a film that keeps you engaged and on the edge of your seat for 2 hours. Sujoy Ghosh gave us a jaw-dropping suspense-thriller in Kahaani in 2012, and it is good to see him back in his element as he raises the bar with the Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu starrer Badla.
The story of the film is very simple, at least on the surface. Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu), a young and successful woman, is in need of a lawyer as she readies to face trial for the murder of her lover, Arjun (Tony Luke). Sethi is devastated as she has lost the support of her husband after the extramarital affair is made public and only has the mastermind attorney Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan) on her side now.
As Gupta talks to Sethi about what exactly led to Arjun’s death, the two unearth hidden truths not only about the incident and the events leading up to it but also each other. How this tale, coiled with twists and turns, results in a climax that leaves you spellbound forms the crux of the story.
We have seen Bachchan and Pannu play the roles of lawyer and client before, in Pink, and very successfully. Eyebrows were raised when the two came back with the seemingly same dynamic. However, Badla proves that one should not doubt good actors or good filmmakers as the premise of this film is as different as it can be from the duo’s previous outing.
Ghosh has adapted the screenplay from the Spanish film, The Invisible Guest, and has made it suit Indian sensibilities through the intelligent use of mythological allusions from the Mahabharata. The narrative is powered by clever writing that hardly ever loses pace. The conversations between Sethi and Gupta act as a fulcrum on which several mysteries unfold and are simultaneously sustained. These exchanges, driven by references to the chakravyuh, the Pandavas and the Sanjay-Dhritarashtra dynamic, are engaging, gripping and constantly keep you on your toes.
In this film, Ghosh has several balls in the air but does not drop them even once, and yet he keeps us aware of the course of the narrative. A few minutes into the film and you become part of his world. When it comes to a thriller, Ghosh is indeed one of the best!
In many a scene, Gupta says the true answer lies in the details. That summarises the impact of Badla in a nutshell. The film stays with you long after you have left the theatre. If you look back, you will find answers to a labyrinth of questions that were intricately embedded in the details of the narrative. And then there is the element of ‘coincidence’. Just when disbelief hits you because of too many coincidental events unfolding one after the other, one of the leads questions it. The questions raised help the audience keep tabs on episodes that are placed in a non-linear fashion.
Major portions of the film are set in the picturesque snow-carpeted locales of Scotland. Avik Mukhopadhyay’s lens skillfully frame these pristine landscapes. The enchanting European castle-like hotels, the still blue waters and grey roads that meander through lush forests are a treat to watch. The misty winter, clouds and mellow light create an atmosphere of mystery and suspicion. There is a grey veil that lurks over the revenge thriller that keeps the tone of the film intact.
The film benefits from crisp editing. The 2-hour run time smartly encompasses three hours in the lives of the protagonists with multiple flashbacks and versions of the same story. Editor Monisha R Baldawa manages to effortlessly go back and forth while maintaining the rhythm. The second half is especially praiseworthy for being a rollercoaster ride.
Performance-wise, Amitabh Bachchan yet again proves why he is still a superstar and still so relevant after five decades in the industry. He manages to catch the pulse of his character very well. His voice, his nuances and his ability to surprise you any second is what makes his part memorable. It is not easy to establish your own space in the presence of a legend but Taapsee Pannu has done it once again. The actress has several shades to her character, each of which she plays with subtle grace and strength. Newcomer Tony Luke is very good as Naina Sethi’s boyfriend, Arjun, and so is Manav Kaul as Jimmy, who makes a special appearance. Amrita Singh and Tanveer Ghani do justice to their parts.
Verdict: Do NOT miss this one!