Produced by: Gauri Khan, Akshai Puri & Sunil Khetarpal
Directed by: Sujoy Ghosh
Written by: Sujoy Ghosh & Raj Vasant from a story by Oriol Paulo
Music: Amaal Malik, Anupam Roy & Clinton Cerejo
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Tony Luke, Manav Kaul, Amrita Singh, Tanveer Ghani, Denzil Smith, Shome Makhija, Antonia Aakeel, Jason Hetherington and others
Justice, as counsel Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan) keeps reiterating, is blind. So is infatuation, so is desperation, and so is the intoxication of power and money, Without giving away any spoilers, this is the crux of “Badla,” and those who have watched the Spanish original from which it is adapted, and Indianized (complete with references to the “Mahabharat”) will understand what I mean. I had the advantage (!) of watching this film first.
Shot almost entirely in Glasgow’s picturesque as well as ominously gloomy locales, the film’s only notable flaw is the overabundance of Indians there in all the right places. A lawyer (Badal Gupta) has won 39 cases there and is retiring after this 40th one, without losing a single one. An Indian businesswoman, Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu), who has won an international Business award, runs a massive firm with international operations. And a chance mishap on the road sees a victim who is also Indian.
So much so, that you do wonder why this official adaptation of the Spanish masterpiece could not have been located in India. But there are cogent reasons, seemingly very minor but very vital ones, and we do not want to discuss them here. Relationships and family values play a very important role here, and we even marvel at the fact that the Spanish writer came up with a story that is, in many ways, so essentially Indian at the core.
To cut this convoluted and layered story short, it is about a prosperous and confident young tycoon, Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu), who is accused of killing a young man (Tony Luke) with whom she was having a casual, extramarital fling. The two are in a hotel room in which the door and windows are all sealed from inside. Yet, she has been hit on the head and her lover killed. Why were the two there? Well, because someone was blackmailing them and had demanded a huge ransom. But the ransom money is untouched.
Naina, through her good friend (Manav Kaul), hires the best counsel (Bachchan) in town. And the man, whose shrewdness is exemplary, arrives three hours before their appointment as he has heard some news that may not be in her interest. As Naina unfolds her story, Badal keeps insisting that she tell the complete truth, as he is charging her exorbitantly by the hour, and is not interested in losing his final case. And so he keeps making vital notes in his book, as she talks and they discuss her “truth.”
How a vintage thriller can be adroitly mixed with modern technology is beautifully shown in this classic drama where the final revelation will give a jolt to those who have never experienced the original or are not hardcore thriller addicts. This reviewer did have a suspicion about the final denouement midway, but even as I was gratified that I was not off the mark about the character – and I have been a thriller addict since childhood! – the real and most interesting part of the story lay in how and why it all unraveled, and how it was shown.
Ghosh’s direction is assured, top-rate, the lines spoken by the characters lifelike yet impactful. There is no overt drama, and the one-liners are always understated even in the tone and the body language of the characters. And, of course, any resemblances to “Drishyam” (and no, this is not a spoiler at all!) are PURELY coincidental!
The technical side is very “Hollywood” – subdued camerawork that portends some forthcoming evil. Clinton Cerejo scores some extraordinary BGM in the beginning (the phase with the soft rapping of the ‘tabla’ is exceptional) before settling down into routine work. The songs are not meant to be remembered. Monisha R. Baldawa’s editing is in keeping with the story’s intentionally leisured pace. A special pat is for the outstanding production design by Subrata Barik and Kaushik Das – and also to Paul Rowan for the production design in Scotland.
On the acting side, Taapsee is incredibly nuanced as always for her character, which is a super mix of the confident and the tense woman who wants out of this dangerous situation. Amitabh Bachchan is in excellent fettle, and I loved the way he smiles – a quirky mix of someone who is daring and even mocking his employer who is paying him big money for doing his job and someone who is a self-assured ace counsel. Amrita Singh is a complete surprise and is plain magnificent in her (length-wise) brief role. The rest do well.
One minor factor that can work against the commercial prospects of this film is that, unlike “Kahaani,” “Gupt,” “Dus” and “A Wednesday!” (the four films that jolted me with their denouements), this film is, effectively, restricted to Naina’s drawing room and the climax, in the dramatic sense for Hindi cinema, lacks action, cinematically as well as visually. For that deficiency, I hope that the audience that has evolved in the last year, especially, will compensate.