Badlapur (Sriram Raghavan, 2015)

From the first 5 minutes of this neo-noir thriller, there is no anticipation or genuine concern felt for Varun Dhawan’s character’s (Raghu is his name) revenge plot or of Nawaz’s (Liak is his name) fate as the brutal murderer. Noir is dependent on aesthetic, but it is also dependent on the personas of its heroes and villains. Their introductions gage us for who they are, and why we should care about their actions.  From the get go of Badlapur however, the only question that comes to mind is “so what?” That may seem heartless considering its a wife and child who die at the hands of the crooks, but Raghavan literally castrates any intensity from that initial robber-murder scene out and throws it to the dogs. It happens at lightning speed and is poorly directed, with Raghavan’s camerawork and writing as fumbling as Nawaz holding his pistol while driving. If anything, the most adequate word to describe the whole ordeal would be “awkward”. Rajkumar Hirani’s opening scene in Munnabhai MBBS was more edge-of-your seat than the beginning of this film.

Throughout the film, we are subjected to Varun Dhawan trying his best imitation of Ajay Devgan in a Prakash Jha political thriller… scowling and looking at the ground for an hour and a half. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this guy cannot act, but to top it off, Raghavan insists on keeping the camera at a closeup of Dhawan’s face, making us watch this cold metallic robot star pretend to cry. So Raghu is depressed that his wife and child have passed and he keeps this grudge for a good 15 years, which in the meantime, the murderer Liak attempts to escape jail 5 times and fails, in the process getting into fights with hoodlums behind bars. Siddiqui is of course a naturally good actor, and watching him is a saving grace despite the fact that his character is as multi-faceted as piece of gray construction paper. Raghu is visited by one of Liak’s family members who makes a lame attempt at emotionally manipulating him into forgiving Liak and letting him be released from jail since he is now terminally ill and wants to die at home and not in a cell. Like Liak’s repetitive sequences of trying to escape and getting into fights, we see several people confront Raghu about his own faults and his obsession with revenge. Again, its a trait of the Bollywood filmmaker nowadays to make sure that we get what he’s trying to say, you know, just in case we’re too stupid to digest the idea of a man who is out to seek revenge for his dead wife and son can also be deemed as mentally disturbed and morally dubious. Whether this is done for mass appeal or not, the fact is that Raghavan isn’t out for subtlety because its not enough… he needs to know we have his “message” imprinted onto our asses like branded cattle. Dhawan then goes after Siddiqui’s accomplice Harman, played by Vinay Pathak, who is serviceable in his role but again, it’s hardly a meaty part.

The one redeeming quality of this film however, is that it doesn’t feel the need to tie itself into a neat little bow by the end. We are left with strands, and aptly so. What transpires through Raghu scowling and wrecking his way towards revenge is Sriram Raghavan’s favorite noir trope… that of the self-destructive anti-hero. It is Newton’s 2nd law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Thus, as Raghu piles on anger towards his family’s killers, he himself comes undone bit by bit, destroyed through his own vengeance, and he is left asking if any of it was worth the trouble, alone and cold in the rain. It’s a cliche, yes, but its at least better than what many other directors would try to negotiate for their leading man. At least Raghavan draws some inspiration here, though overused. In this sense, Badlapur at least remains an average, if mediocre film as opposed to a misguided one.


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