It is evident from the title that the underlying theme of the movie is about revenge and forgiveness. It is also about insanity, depression, sexism, and Nawazuddin Siddique.
Varun Dhawan plays a young market salesman Raghu whose wife and son are murdered in a robbery case in broad daylight. The murderer is Laik (Nawazuddin Siddique), and he gets caught, whereas his partner Harman (Vinay Pathak) escapes with the money. This leads to Varun’s psychological demise, which is compounded by and greatly attributed to his self-imposed isolation and almost nihilistic pessimism. Even fifteen years later at his reclusive abode at Badlapur, he has a room wherein he keeps all the possessions of his wife and son. His daily solace is going through these memorabilia; which is an indication of his budding insanity.
Meanwhile Laik (Nawazuddin Siddique) spends his time in jail as he got sentenced to twenty years. On the fifteenth year, Shobha (Divya Dutta), who works for an NGO for the rehabilitation of prisoners, chooses Laik as her next project since he is dying of cancer. To seek his freedom she asks Raghu to grant him pardon. The rest of the movie follows Raghu exacting his revenge, taking us into a grim and suspenseful ride wherein the lines between sanity and insanity, delusion and foresight, blur incredibly.
Badlapur is inspired by the Western models of film making regarding its technique, and in its use of realism. Unfortunately, in an ambitious effort to be a complex, introspective and multilayered exploration into the various states of human condition, it loses itself. The story introduces too many narratives and the movie proves incapable in handling them – for example, it keeps shifting between being a psychological thriller, to drama, to a detective story, to a moralistic one; it keeps jumping from one character’s trajectory to another without them having a concrete impact upon the protagonist Raghu, nor on the viewer; such a coalition of themes requires skilled execution to make it effective so as to not confuse the audience.
Nawazuddin Siddique is the saving grace of the movie both due to his performance and the likeability of his character. Liak as a character is nuanced, fluid and dualistic, making him highly realistic. Moreover, Nawazuddin’s rendition of Liak is unpretentious and natural, and quite engaging. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Varun Dhawan, who might have grasped the emotional complexity of his decaying character, but fails to emote it successfully. Raghu’s psychological state is damaged and fractured, and a wooden, broody representation is simply not enough to communicate it across. If Liak ultimately sympathizes with Raghu’s depth of despair, then so should the audience, but it does not happen.
The movie follows realism, unlike many the blockbusters of today. It is so with all characters, which are round and relatable. It is also realistic with regard to the women, but women’s representation even in this movie needs decoding regarding the politics that usually surround this issue. In Badlapur, women are sexually exploited or used regardless of their social status – from a prostitute, to a wife of a crorepati, to an independent social worker. This is indicative of how powerless women still are despite their financial autonomy, and this representation is realistic.
But what is problematic is that women’s bodies are used as spaces for a man to exact his revenge on another man. It is about power-play between two men. Women’s sexuality and bodies are treated as prized ‘possessions’ strictly under intense surveillance of men, liable to their use at a moment’s notice regardless if consent. This is true with all these three ‘powerful’ women characters. It is this undercurrent of the story that can backfire on the realism. It doesn’t matter that these women’s characters go against the grain, have intelligent dialogues and live a life outside the realm of domesticity; or that they are women who work or have individual personalities; it still does not negate the fact that such representations are dubious. Especially if it might be consumed uncritically. And to be fair, alternatively, Baldapur can also be critical about such behaviour. But this area remains ambiguous and overlooked by the makers as it is more plausible that most people, men and women alike, would simply take such a representation for granted without questioning it.
Badlapur also has very glaring logical fallacies. There is an uneasy hollowness when we notice that Varun’s relatives and parents totally disappear. How did they just let him go? Interestingly, including these instances would really have revealed the inner processes of a grief-stricken man’s gradual downfall into insanity. Yet, Badlapur really wanted to focus on the themes of revenge, forgiveness and redemption, and thus perhaps this omission might be forgivable. However, it is hard to shake off the notion that if the protagonist of the movie had been Nawazuddin Siddique, the story, which had potential, would probably have succeeded.
There are times when Badlapur simply rambles on without an end at sight, testing the audience’s patience. Better editing would have helped the movie immensely, along with a better, more fluid and sensitive actor to play Varun Dhawan’s character Raghu. All the supporting actors gave really good performances. But the movie sank due to a weakly structured storyline (which was too dispersed and unbalanced), lack of clarity of thought and execution, the inherent sexism and (especially) Varun Dhawan’s acting. Hopefully Sriram Raghavan will learn from his mistakes and make more concise, well-thought out, effective and simple films that resonate with the audiences and move them instead of merely depressing them. Badlapur leaves much to be desired.
By Ananya Tiwari