A revenge tale of an advertising executive (Varun Dhawan) whose wife and son are killed by a bumbling pair (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vinay Pathak) during a bank robbery because they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Badlapur, as the title suggests, gears the audience right from the beginning. From the very first scene, taken in a single static shot, in which the action unfolds gradually on a seemingly ordinary day on a Pune street, it suddenly plunges the audience directly into the crisis. Events unroll at a steady pace; all the major characters are introduced without frills and the audience is sucked into the tragedy.
The set-up builds up the required pace associated with a conventional thriller, but once the traumatized protagonist Raghu – played by Varun Dhawan in a career defining role – checks in at an obscure town called Badlapur to escape his familiar world, with the sole intention of waiting out the 15 years to extract his revenge, the film settles down to a pace that the audience could find disconcerting; but that’s exactly what lends the film a quality that raises it above the regular edge-of-the-seat thriller. The film acquires a mood and atmosphere that accentuate the trauma of the brooding hero, reduced to the point of inaction, working out his days as a manager in a factory till he is hurled back into action after 15 years.
Raghu’s characterization subverts the notion of the regular revenge hero; he engages in actions that run the risk of losing audience empathy from the very beginning – but never does – like forcibly engaging in unnatural sex with a sex-worker to extract vital information at a time when he is still in mourning. Sriram Raghavan, the director treads a very delicate line here, not seen in Indian cinema before, where all moral values gradually melt into an unmitigated agenda of absolute revenge till the protagonist is cheated into committing the unforgivable crime of killing innocent people.
But revenge yields to redemption in the final act, almost like a cross-fade, and raises the film from its sombre tone and salvages the antagonist in the eyes of the audience. The weaving of the screenplay in this segment lacks the uplifting tenor of a rising crescendo; it looks as if pieces were hurriedly inserted to hasten the end, but it drives home its point forcefully and unexpectedly, nevertheless. There is almost a moral lesson here: Unbridled rage leads to stupid actions that can only be redeemed by somebody else taking the blame.
Badlapur works up a splendid ensemble cast weaved together with a finesse by giving all the characters the right footage and weightage. Yami Gautam as Raghu’s wife, Huma Qureshi as a sex worker, Radhika Apte as the innocent wife of one of the partners-in-crime, Divya Dutta as a social worker, Ashwini Kalsekar in a tiny role of a private investigator and Pratima Kazmi as the mother of the other criminal invest their roles with a poise that stays with us long after the film is over. Zakir Hussain in a bit role as Qureshi’s patron and Murali Sharma as a crippled co-prisoner add the right dash of pep to the story, while Kumud Mishra comes as a surprise package in his role of a police officer. Vinay Pathak as one of the criminals underplays his role with a nervous élan that almost endears himself to the audience but it is Nawazuddin Siddiqui who engages us with his quirky performance, acting as the perfect foil to the efforts of Raghu and the police personnel. His Liak is a worthy antagonist, engaging in mind games with his opponents in a manner that fetches him all the credit and sympathy of the audience and transcends the line between good and evil.
Badlapur is an assured cinematic work that sparkles in every department, whether it is the impressive sound designing by Madhu Apsara, Anil Mehta’s striking compositions and evocation of the gloomy mood that permeates most of the film, and the almost invisible jump cuts that lend an edge to many of the scenes and give them a smart Nouvelle Vague feel. Raghavan always excelled in outdoor scenes, staging a lot of actions in real crowded locations with an assuredness that comes through experience; and his jail scenes can now definitely be counted as a yardstick for other filmmakers.
Hindi, Action, Thriller, Color