‘Badla’ review: The Story’s in the Details

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

LICH rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Director Sujoy Ghosh‘s oeuvre began on a high note with his warm hug to composer Rahul Dev Burman, and his box-office chart hit the sinusoidal high with the 2012 stunner Kahaani (though the denouement was a sly doff to the 2004 D.J. Caruso-helmed psychological thriller, Taking Lives.) Post that, I was hoping Ghosh wouldn’t fall prey to the Night Shyamalan Syndrome, where a director feels the noose tightening around the neck of their script demanding a twisty end, or else. In some ways, though, maybe he did. And in many ways, the audience began to expect it of him.

In remaking Oriol Paulo‘s Contratiempo (aka The Invisible Guest), director Sujoy Ghosh knows he’s treading dangerous ground. The plot has to stick and yet give his audience the pyrrhic satisfaction of having been second-guessed and outmanoeuvred. But that isn’t the point of Badla (Revenge), really. The canvas is an upmarket apartment where businesswoman Naina Sethi (Tapsee Pannu) at first glance, is all cosy and happy, but one look at her ankle monitor and TV screen and you know she’s in deep trouble. And the first splash of character mosaic in this setting is lawyer Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan), who’s been sent there by Naina’s lawyer-friend Jimmy Punjabi (Manav Kaul).

The premise, involving a murder (or maybe more) is all conversational and the canvas slowly fills up, but Ghosh (also adapting the story) wants you to keep listening and watching, which means that the details are fleshed out intermittently, in different parts and places of the plot as Naina and Badal discuss the case details. Which is a rather clever way of divulging plotlines without actually revealing too much. But does that mean the unpredictability quotient is high? For those whose minds keep racing ahead of the scenes and begin fitting the jigsaw pieces, Badla may be beginner level game. But it also offers character-driven pleasure as they begin populating the story arc, sometimes unexpectedly, even if only to trigger your I-knew-so nod—Arjun Joseph (Tony Luke), Rani (Amrita Singh) and her husband Nirmal (Tanveer Ghani) . But the atmosphere gets more and more anxious, cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay adding an uncertain dread to the Glasgow countryside, while editor Monisha R Baldawa cuts some flashback sequences into the present with the panache that matches Leo Trombetta‘s for True Detective‘s compelling season three. Clinton Cerejo‘s moody background score is a plus, adding a thump to the proceedings.

Amitabh Bachchan and Tapsee Pannu map their strategy.

The cast is magnificent all around: Tony Luke is superb, playing his ambivalent character with a translucent despair, while Tanveer Ghani is perfect as the UK-based husband/father who seems to have a lot more to do than what meets the eye. Manav Kaul is very good, giving his fleeting role a nice depth. Tapsee Pannu is simmering and quietly ferocious, her poker-face act hiding not just her strength, but also an unknown anxiety. As Badal Gupta—the character’s name director Ghosh’s playful anagram of the movie title?— Amitabh Bachchan is the story-teller, tying up things for us and Pannu, using Mahabharata references, and then quickly unravelling them as he’s stumped himself. Bachchan’s act is a pleasure to watch as he deviously enjoys his conversations with his client, sometimes in charge of them, completely blind-sided elsewhere. But it is Amrita Singh who is the highlight of Badla. She’s simply terrific, pivoting between giving you goose-bumps—watch her stare before the interval calling card and you’ll gulp in frightful pleasure—or breaking your heart: there’s only one scene where she and Amitabh Bachchan are together, they don’t speak, but they are devastatingly good there, pricking your sense of triumph and overwhelming sadness.

Amrita Singh packs in a highlight performance.

Badla has plenty of red herrings that are topped by some delectable, glancing hints if you care for them, but the trick is to divest yourself off the dreaded Shyamalan Expectation Syndrome as his audience and just revel in the detailing that director Sujoy Ghosh has spread out for you. For no one knows better than him—and Bachchan’s Badal Gupta—that the truth lies in the details, but the devilish pleasure lies in the storytelling.

Badla (2019) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Badla is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s some intense sequences.

Director Sujoy Ghosh Running Time 1h 58min
Writer Sujoy Ghosh
Stars Tapsee Pannu, Amitabh Bachchan, Tony Luke, Amrita Singh, Tanveer Ghani, Manav Kaul
Genres  Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

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