It was almost cathartic to watch the Bollywood whodunit ‘Badla’ without any intermission.
The continuity and momentum of this intriguing murder mystery, laced with deception and double crossing, was retained to a large extent with that master stroke.
With no conventional distractions like a snack break, our eyes and focus remained steadfastly on Badal Gupta, a high profile criminal lawyer played by Amitabh Bachchan, and his wealthy client Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu) who has been accused of murdering her lover (Tony Luke). She was knocked out cold when the grisly crime played out.
Gupta is the smooth litigator who is on call to prepare the self-made, seemingly progressive Sethi’s for the impending trial and build a strong case in her defence. He hasn’t lost a case in his illustrious 40-year career and he wasn’t going to start with Naina’s case either, we are told.
The evidence is stacked against the confident entrepreneur, but Sethi’s steadfastly claims she may have committed adultery, but has no blood on her hands.
For a thriller that’s set against the murky web of lies, deceit, blackmail and betrayal, there’s very little emotions on display, which is highly enjoyable and a welcome change. ‘Badla’ is, refreshingly, a morality and melodrama free zone. No judgement either.
A scene in which the clinical legal mind Gupta scathingly tells an overwrought Sethi to cut out the emotional turmoil while narrating her side of her story in her well-decorated living room sets the tone of film. A court only listens to hard facts, proof and evidence, he tells her; and she is a quick learner. From then on, Sethi is on-point about what happened in her life in the days leading up to her lover being expunged.
‘Badla’, directed by Sujoy Ghosh of ‘Kahaani’ fame, is exhilaratingly clinical and cold in its postmortem of the murky murder case.
The film relies heavily on the verbal exchange between Pannu and Bachchan as they go back in time to re-build the events leading up to her being embroiled in the murder case.
There is easy chemistry between the two and in the first 60 minutes you are hooked on to their conversation. The dialogues, co-written by Ghosh, feels natural and their interaction seems very organic. Pannu, who plays an assured murder accused, holds her own against Bachchan’s towering on-screen persona. Her borderline flippant attitude towards his unnerving cross-examination is wicked. Who’s spinning the perfect crime is a question that lurks in a viewer’s minds. Pannu takes a solid stab at acting here, while Bachchan is consistent in his solemn-but-snarky turn as a discerning, world-weary legal mind. Ask me to choose between the two acts, it’s Sethi who comes out shining. Actress Amrita Singh, as a troubled, conflict-addled mother, also brings her A-game into this murder mystery. Luke as the morally ambiguous lover is engaging.
The tale, which is set in Glasgow winter, adds ambience to the chilling events.
Be warned though, the plot gets convoluted towards the end and it may get exhausting to keep up with the events being played out on screen. Plus, Bachchan’s propensity to allude to Hindu mythology doesn’t help matters. But don’t give up on this slightly unhinged pair.
A whodunit is as good as its ability to surprise. ‘Badla’, which means revenge, manages to dish out a few gems along the way.
Do you guess the identity of the killer? Perhaps. But, do you still remain invested in these two? Yes.
While the climax doesn’t knock you off your feet, you will still enjoy the blow-by-blow account of how things escalated to a murder and a cover-up.
In my eyes, that’s a good enough reason to watch a suspense thriller.
Don’t miss it!
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Amrita Singh, Amitabh Bachchan and Tony Luke
Stars: 3.5 out of 5