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Badla Movie Review: It Is A Nifty Nugget Of A Noire!

Subhash K . Jha

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Badla

Starring:  Amitabh Bachchan, Tapsee Pannu, Amrita Singh

Directed by: Sujoy Ghosh

Rating: ****(4 stars)

 The  phonetic distance  between   badla,  the  Hindi word for revenge  that serves as  the deliciously  filmy title  of this delicately drawn  whodunnit, and Badal, the name that  the lawyer-protagonist  is  known by is  easily  bridgable . The  craftily-plotted  whodunit  shows us why vendetta is best served cold.It unfolds in  snowcapped England, you see.

Or  , do you?

Amitabh Bachchan  plays  Badal Gupta, a hotshot lawyer  on  the  verge of retirement  who has never  lost a  case. Badal goes for  the kill when he is invited to  look into a case of a  murder  accused, a nonchalant imperturbable married  woman named  Naina Sethi whose morals  are so reprehensible they make Indrani  Mukerjea seem excusably  misguided in comparison.

Kudos  to Tapsee Pannu for  playing a  woman who won’t stop at anything to  get what she wants. It shows the expanding  moral spectrum of  celluloid  heroism to see a  female  protagonist so low in the conscience department , and it is a pleasure  to see Ms Pannu so  good in being bad.

But  why  must  she smoke  to prove her  disregard   for moral values? I thought  smoking for vamping went out of vogue with Shashikala.

But   I am straying. A  crime this film about unforgivable  crimes, never commits. To the point and on  the  ball,  Badla is  a concise  gripping cat-and-mouse concoction where  lawyer  Bachchan and the accused  Pannu play  off against one another with feline stealth, one never  willing to acquiesce  to  the other’s  persuasive  arguments, so that in no time  a swirl  of  accusations  come hurling at  us without the plot giving  away  anything. The dialogues tell us  everything the characters want  us to hear  without giving away the truth.

Sujoy Ghosh, it seems, has adapted a  Spanish film The Invisible Guest. I suspect the  suspect-motive-crime-denouement graph in the original  must have been  very different.Badla contextualizes  the murder to  fit into the ambit of adultery. Pannu’s  entrepreneur-heroine  has a loving  family of  devoted   husband  and adorable little  daughter.  Why would she break the domestic  idyll to have an affair with an  anglo-Indian Arjun(Tony Luke) who must wear cross around his neck even while bearing  it(the  cross, I mean) and  who  speaks  with a thick Bandra-Catholic  accent that  tends to take away  from  the  gravity  of  the crisis on hand.

Arjun’s peculiar  diction  is  the  least  of  the  problems in the narrative. Ghosh  fills up the frames with an implosive tension. Most  of   the time  there are  just Mr Bachchan and  his accused(far from a victim) talking, exchanging barbed words and slanted glances that  give nothing away. Both the actors are adept at  using words  to express more than just what they want to say.There is a third crucial character  , played  by  the powerful   Amrita Singh  who makes  even  an offer for a  cup of tea seem  like a stern rebuke.It’s a pity that there isn’t much  of  Ms Singh with Mr Bachchan together . What  I wouldn’t give to see  that Mard-slinging!

 Cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay  captures the scenic splendor  of the  English countryside without allowing  the characters  to look subservient to their environment.Handsomely shot  and as sharply cut as a Saville Row suit, Badla is a unique blend of  suspense and  chamber-piece.The verbal exchanges between  Mr  Bachchan and  Ms Pannu play a  curious  mind-game  with  the perception  of  guilt and  retribution.

At  the end Sujoy Ghosh captures two  vital faces staring out  of a  window. They remind us  of how important characterization is  to a  tightly-wound plot, and how easily a suspense drama can come undone  in the wrong hands.

Not this one.

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