Cast: Varun Dhawan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Qureshi and Yami Gautam
Stars: 4 out of 5
Bollywood actor Varun Dhawan, who has a history of taking on those syrupy cool-dude roles, was itching for a makeover and to reveal his mean side on the big screen. He couldn’t have chosen a better vehicle than the bloody Badlapur, directed by Sriram Raghavan.
This is not your usual Bollywood revenge saga about a young man Raghu (Dhawan) grappling with the unexpected murder of his angelic wife (Yami Gautam) and his young boy.
Without resorting to melodrama or over-the-top histrionics, Dhawan does an impeccable job of communicating his angst and gut-wrenching grief. It’s unnerving and terribly moving to see him grapple with the sudden tragedy that strikes his life. Dhawan should take a bow here as he exercises great economy in his emotions here — a feat that not many Bollywood actors can take credit for.
The psychological drama, which begins with a random African proverb “the axe forgets, the tree remembers” flashing on the screen, sums up the essence of Badlapur.
The axe in this case is a pair of seemingly amateur bank robbers Laik (Siddiqui) and Harman (Vinay Pathak); how they shoddily handle matters when their planned bank heist goes terribly wrong, and the tree is the happily-married Raghu.
The triumph here is the break-neck speed with which Misha and the boy are killed and how Raghu hurtles down the path of isolation. It shocks the viewers instantly and is the perfect audience bait to keep you guessing for the next hour. While the beginning throws the audience into the vortex of action (do not miss the beginning), the vengeance trail, which lasts nearly two decades, is languid.
The gangly Laik, played by Siddiqui, is an ace at muddling with your head.
Laik gets caught and is sentence to 20 years in prison, but he never gives away the identity of his partner in crime, who managed a narrow escape from the cops.
He’s relentless at playing the cat and mouse game with police officers and the wounded Raghu, who’s trapped in his thirst for vendetta. All he dreams about is how to exact revenge on those who wronged him. Raghu’s transformation from a carefree twenty-something to a sinister widower is beautifully captured.
While the first half draws you into their lives, it’s the brutal second half that has some good twists. Suddenly, the film becomes a matter of perspective. Do you sympathise with a hammer-wielding, manipulative Raghu or the petty orphaned criminal Laik who has always been dealt a bad hand of cards? Usually, Bollywood films are intent on painting their heroes as some sacrosanct, avenging souls, but director Raghavan has no such compulsion.
In Badlapur, it’s the triumph of different shades of grey in a person. There’s no absolute right or wrong in this bloody revenge drama, and that’s a good thing. However, there may be times in this film where you need to be a bit patient as the pace oscillates between fast and slow. Plus, you need to have a strong stomach for violence here.
But this is no mindless gore-fest, as the director and actors do a good job of drawing you into their heads — no matter how warped or twisted.
— Badlapur is currently showing in the UAE.