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Badlapur(2015): Lockdown Blueschasers!

Badlapur(2015): Lockdown Blueschasers!

Badlapur(2015):The tree remembers, the axe forgets, reads a proverb in the opening credits of a film that left me feeling like both the tree and the axe.While the films pain-lashed topography in the first overture is exceptionalwith every vein onVarunDhawans temples ringing a bellthe second overture gets audacious tongue-in-cheek subversive and sometimes downright silly. As if the tree decided to get even with the axe by cutting off its own branches.

 Cast in the mould of the greatest redemptive dramas Badlapur has an ambitious ambience  of unmitigated doom irrigating almost every frame. Its as if director Sriram Raghavan and his co-writer Arijit Biswas wants to shut out all light from his protagonist Raghavans life.Insulated from the outside world  Raghavs festering pain spreads itself out in the narrative spanning a seductive facsimile of reality that jumps off the screen to claim our attention.

For a large part Badlapur is an exceptionally engaging drama. The film opens on a busy road in Pune with traffic, passersby, hawkers and bystanders loitering in camera range.In a corner we catch a mother and child heading into their family car .We dont know yet that they  are our hero Raghavans  universe. We also dont know that they will be dead in the next ten minutes, and our hero would shed his heroic skin as the plot progresses from being a human drama to a heist caper with a loot that is quite a hoot.

The confrontational drama between the hero Raghavan and the villain Laik gets a massive, near-monumental fillip from the main actors.

Varun Dhawan, a bit raw around the edges but nonetheless acutely effective as the grieving family-man, and Nawazuddin , flawlessly flamboyant as the sly villain who has willy-nilly destroyed the heros life , together confer an overpowering immediacy to the proceedings.

 But then, their collaborative might as the sinned and the sinner, begins to be dimmed by a digressional drama that impinges itself from the sidelines. The virus of over-ambition  strikes the narrative much in the same way that tragedy strikes Raghavans life.

  The problem is with the structure. Raghavan cannot make a film without incorporating the heist element. A bag filled with crores of money shows up in the second-half to claim primacy as protagonist in the plot. So do two new characters played with panache by Vinay Pathak and Radhika Apte. Both are very effective in their parts. But they make no real sense out of the material that the script throws into their orbit.

   There is a sequence where our hero, rapidly degenerating into a vengeful sociopath tells  his wrong-doer that he will forgive him if  Raghavan is allowed to sleep with his wrongdoers  wife. Raghavan and the wrongdoers wife proceed to the bedroom. What follows is unintentionally hilarious. There is a woman in a bra and lots of moaning sounds. But no sex.

 Wait. There is sex elsewhere. The love-making sequence with Huma Qureshi who plays a prostitute and Laiks girl is meant to be brutal but ends up being a burlesque of the real thing. The sequences showing the hero using sex  as a weapon of revenge dont work not for the lack of intelligent writing. But because Varuns inexperience shows up in sequences that expose his youth.

 No such problems arise in Nawazs performance. Flawlessly cunning and diabolic he goes from bank robbery to jail term to chronic escapee with a deep  understanding of the humour that underlines all anti-social humour.

 Rebellious minds cant see how selfcentred their aspirations are.Nawazuddin can. He can peer into Laiks murky soul and find redeemable humour. Its  a remarkable achievement, sadly not matched by all of the screenwriting in this engaging authentic but flawed drama of crime and retribution.

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What director Sriram Raghavan avoids at any cost is shallowness in the dynamics of vendetta. The tussle of oneupanship between Raghavan and Laik never lapses into an incoherent and angry jumble of rhetorics and recrimination. There is always room for the drama to slide open slippery doors that lead into unexpected truths about the quality of life lived on the edge of destruction.

It takes a social worker, played with empathetic energy by Divya Dutta. to point out the sheer nullity of Raghavans life after the revenge would be complete. The same is true of  the  screenplay. It seeks its strength in the vendetta drama and then loses steam when the hero begins to lose his way in the maze of retribution .

      Finally Badlapur leaves  a lot to be desired.Desire being one of the predominant themes in the revenge tale.  A routine Hero Versus Villain premise is  uplifted by the stark and stripped-down central performances. Nawaz and to an extend, Varun bare the souls of their character. Varun falters due to inexperience but more than redeems himself in a sequence  such as the one where he confesses to Nawazuddin about  cold-bloodedly killing a couple.

It is that ruthlessness of the rootless, a man who has lost everything that Varun portrays with compassion.

The supporting is consistently brilliant. But then,thats the least one expects from Raghavans film.

Badlapur takes the cinema of eye for an eye to a new high. The feral ferocious face-offs between  Varun and Nawazuddin captured in the colour of wrath and doom by cinematographer Anil Mehta, confer a vital visceral velocity to the virile vendetta saga. At the end the darkness of despair gets to you. I am not sure why I felt cheated and betrayed.

Was it because the protagonist didnt get the revenge he expected? Or was it something else?

Dum  Lagake Haisha(2015) Its very interesting to see how comfortably the very talented Sanjay Mishra and Seema Pahwa  who played  the lead in Rajat Kapoors highly-lauded Ankhon Dekhi last year, fit into the peripheral parts of the heros father and heroines mother in Dum Laga Ke Haisha(DLKH).

Come to think of it, 20 years ago Mishra and Pahwa could have comfortably played the lead of an uncomfortably married couple here. Ayushmanna Khurrana is the under-educated Kumar Sanu  fan from Haridwar who doesnt seem to have much ambition in  life except to marry a pretty girl.

Newcomerwith a commodious qammarBhumi Pedneker is the educated aggressive girl  who doesnt believe in taking it lying down from her newly married husband. Uncannily, Khurrana with his slouched  obduracy reminded me of Rakesh Pandey in Basu Bhatterjees Sara Akaash, the newly-married chap who wont talk to his wife because .well, she doesnt quite fit. And we dont mean into the narrow doors and gallis of Haridwar where Ms Pedneker moves with the counter-clumsy certainty and dignity  of a woman who knows her weight is not going to let her become anyones dream woman, not even her dear beloved husband who after a drink or two describes  as a moti bhains in front of his friends.

I am the bride. But its he who blushes like one, Sandhya(Pedneker) tells her curious friend who calls on the landline(this is 1995) to know what happened on the suhaag raat.

Well, nothing did. If you must know.

A majority of the first-half is taken up in showing how Sandhya builds a  bridge of confidence with her reluctant bridegroom, only to discover he is not worth it. Fiery and obstinate Sandhya leaves her Sasural and returns home. One of the films many warmly meditative moments occur when Sandhyas mother tries to hurriedly lecture her about how much a woman must endure to keep a marriage together.That moment is treated like a dismissive joke. So is the activist-lawyer who seems to enjoy separating Sandhya from her husband. The film mocks feminist ideology without resorting to crass strokes of aggression.

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 Later theres smartly humorously written courtroom sequence where during a divorce proceeding,  Prems mother(Alka Amin)  brings up the  issue of a womans compromises to keep domesticity intact.

Why dont you two also go in for a divorce right now? Prem suggests with saddening sarcasm.

The writing is so fluent robust and rooted to the milieu that we never feel the weight of nostalgia in the words. Though set in the pre-cellphone ,VHS,  audio cassette era DLKH  carries the weight of its periodicity very lightly, almost jauntily.In that sense this film differs widely from Ayushmann Khurranas previous release Hawaizaada where the period flavour was pronounced and  pungent. Here the aroma of the 1990s pervades the screen in intangible wafts . We feel the atmosphere in every characters existence. These are people who dont really care about how much they weigh as long as they can forge some meaning out of their meager existence.

  Brilliantly shot in musty rusted shades of renewable decadence DLKH brings back the quaint endearing romance of Basu Chatterjees cinema . The slender story of a newly married couple struggling to find a common ground in a crowded stifling low middleclass family is reminiscent of Basudas Piya Ka Ghar and of course Sara Akaash. The rather self-conscious finale  is sadly a cinematic necessity that happily, doesnt take away from the films utterly unselfconscious weightless debate on marriages being made in heaven or hell.

   What works forcefully  in the films favour is its disarming simplicity. Debutant director  Sharat Katariya is a diligent steadfast storyteller. His eye for visual detail(inherited from his guru Rajat Kapoor) goes a long way in making the characters appear larger than their strife.

Khurrana totally transforms into Haridwars Sanu fame thumb-controlled by a father who slips condoms into Sunny-Boys hands on his suhaag raat reminding him that they cant afford to expand their family at the moment. Debutant Bhumi Pedneker plays the overweight bride with a breezy confidence that gives a wazan to her performance. She is a prized find.

 There are many heroes in  this economically told unfaltering tale of  a marriage of incompatibles:  the debutant director, so unerring in his detailing  of the drama, the serene city of Haridwar caught in a bright but believable light by Manu Anands camera, Ayushmann Khurrana bringing back fond memories of  Raj Kapoor and Amol Palekars working-class anxieties .

Every character , from the heroines bratty kid-brother to the heros Muslim friend, is so sharply sketched they only needed to be fleshed out by able actors, like Sanjay Mishra and Sheeba Chadha, the latter playing the formers sharp-tongued spouse-deserted sister seeking entertainment in domestic strife.

Sounds familiar, right?

 A word about Yash Raj Films ,the banner that seemed to be floundering lately gathers together its wits with this homage to the North Indian middleclass marriage which the late and much-missed Yash Chopra would have liked.

From DDLJ to DLKH, way to go, Yash Raj.  DLKH is a heartwarming charmer suffused with that lived-in feeling which seemed to have vanished in the run to that glitzy shallowness where a dhoom or a bang-bang were seen as viewer-friendly explosions.  Here is a big-hearted shout for a bygone era and arranged marriage where love happens later crammed with episodes  and moments  that add up to an invaluable and cherishable experience.

   By the time Khurranas Prem makes that run with Sandhya on his back you are already rooting for the underdog and his under-affluent world of little pleasures.

Come, share the experience.

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