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There are movies which are downright stupid, catering to the basest of your sensibilities; there are movies that are genuinely intelligent and drive home the point in most clever and delightful ways, and then there are movies that are designed to make you believe that they are intelligent when they might not necessarily be and make you believe that they have much more to say than they actually do.
Badlapur, a riveting thriller and revenge drama by the noir-expert of Bollywood, Sriram Raghvan, is definitely one such movie. This however does not mean that it is a bad piece of cinema. There are flashes of brilliance, quite occasionally, but the inconsistency of the story and perhaps the focus on style and building up the noir gets the better of the story, which had the potential to be a lot, to say a lot.
The story, seemingly a simple revenge drama of a young father Raghu (Varun Dhawan) for the murder of his wife (Yami Gautam) and son by Layak (Nawazuddin Siddique) and Harman (Vinay Pathak), chooses to focus more on the psychological battles and conflict of the leads. This could have been the biggest strength of the movie if executed with more finesse, but in an attempt to appear intelligent and deep, it actually loses a lot of steam. While you feel the brutality of the murder and Raghu’s pain, the intensity and intent to seek revenge doesn’t really come across strongly, atleast not in the first half, where all he does is hide from the world and stays in ‘Badlapur’. Why? Because revenge, you see. The proceedings catch up some steam in the second half, with a number of great actors making appearances, but the motives of several actions is never clear, stylish as they might appear on screen. The climax also undoes in a lot of hype and expectations built throughout the running time, with a fizzled out and seemingly moralistic twist.
Now, where the story fails the movie, there are several other factors which redeem the movie from becoming another run of the mill stuff. The best, and by leaps and bounds, are the performances of the entire ensemble of actors. It is a rare experience when you realize how good the acting, even in the miniscule roles, can be. Huma Qureishi, Divya Dutta, Radhika Apte, Pratima Kazmi, Vinay Pathak, Kumud Mishra all excel in their supporting roles, especially the women. Varun Dhawan puts up an impressive display of angst, and the fire of cold revenge in his eyes. If only the script had not let the revenge get a bit too cold, he would have got the chance to put up even a more spectacular show. Lastly, as always, Nawazuddin Siddique puts up a show that’s hard to match. Just when you think he has reached at the peak, he just raises the bar. Certainly another class act by him, he wins you over completely so that you wouldn’t know who to sympathise with.
But then that is point of the story- not to take sides. Another aspect where the movie excels is, surprisingly, humor. Amidst the tensed revenge drama and what-will-happen-next moments, dark humor is employed very effectively to lighten up the situations. The numerous references to retro and movie folklore serve well to make Badlapur an avant-garde production.
If only the story had been a bit more consistent, or clear about the point its trying to make, we’d have our own noir classic!