T-Series Films, Emmay Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., JA Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. &
Bake My Cake Film Productions present “Batla House”
Produced by: Bhushan Kumar, Monisha Advani, Krishan Kumar, John Abraham, Madhu Bhojwani, Sandeep Leyzell & Divya Khosla Kumar
Directed by: Nikhhil Advani
Written by: Ritesh Shah
Music: Vishal-Shekhar, Tanishk Bagchi, Ankit Tiwari, Rochak Kohli & Stereo Nation
Starring: John Abraham, Mrunal Kulkarni, Manish Chaudhary, Ravi Kissen, Alok Pandey, Sahidur Rehman, Nora Fatehi, Rajesh Sharma, Pramod Pathak, Sonam Arora, Kranti Prakash Jha, Faizan Khan, Niranjan Jadhao, Chirag Katrecha, Yatharth Kansal and others
The recent fast-track litigations against the film’s release that were dismissed with some changes incorporated overnight within the film on release eve reflects the garbled tone of the film.
“Batla House” calls itself a fictional story inspired by real events, has a massive disclaimer readout in both Hindi and English in the beginning, and yet shows real politicians speaking on television and gives real-life references. The disclaimer is redundant also as most of the main characters are clearly modeled on real-life people. The film thus dares this much and no further, shying away from being more real. And that is what significantly gives the film a confused standing in limbo between documented fact and crime fiction.
Director Nikkhil Advani may have a hit here but his expertise goes downhill considerably in the more vital second half of the film that also needed about 15 minutes of a tight edit. The first half establishes everything well and builds up a credible atmosphere where the true hero is the victim as he is considered a murderer – which is what happened in the real-life 2008 case.
Also, Advani’s yen for technical gimmickry (a sore point right from his 2003 “Kal No Haa Ho” debut and which was refreshingly missing from his only extraordinary work, “D-Day”) comes in with the sudden spurts of the hero’s delusions, which could have been put forward more fluidly.
The beleaguered hero Sanjay (John Abraham), six-time Gallantry award winner (as is his real-life counterpart), is played a tad too intensely by John Abraham. At times, as a result, he seems like a programmed automaton, and that does not help the film either. All the other artistes are competent (nothing more, mind you) and we wonder why Rajesh Sharma as the prosecuting attorney needed to ham and also wear an atrocious wig.
Among the actors, the only positive exception is the beautiful Mrunal Thakur as Nandita, Sanjay’s reporter wife. Though she barely gets scope to act except with her eyes, the actress is superb and seems to have internalized the role, and we get one of the most expressive pairs of eyes in the business today!
The first half has its scoring points, like the pre-interval Nizampur sequence, which is superbly conceived, lensed and directed, or the earlier sequence wherein Sanjay recites the Holy Quran fluently to the brainwashed terrorist, or even in the intimate (not physically) scenes between husband and wife – the lead pair.
The worst part of the film is the court case, where we see a muddled outlook on the part of the writer (Ritesh Shah should write less, as he can lose his excellent form with overwork) and director. The heated interaction between Sanjay and his lawyer is not really convincingly depicted and the way Sanjay finally deposes (“for more than five minutes, when he never speaks as long” as per his wife) could have been more effective and razor-sharp.
On the plus side, the film does convincingly put out how the media, politicians and vested interests can mislead each other and how earning personal brownie points (read also TRPs for channels) can supersede unbiased reporting and subvert the truth. For this single virtue, the film needs to be endorsed, but then, as we said, it fails completely to take a sharp stand in its confused flip-flop between truth and fiction.
The Batla House encounter was a real incident in 2008 and remains one of the most controversial cases in contemporary India. Here is where a police officer killed terrorists and was branded as a killer and the encounter termed a fake and pre-planned one. Worse, the terrorists were called “harmless” students of a particular community, and there was public outrage.
In the film version, the hero asks the judge two uncomfortable questions in the climax. We wonder why he (or even the real cop, if this gaffe was applicable there as well) did not ask the real McCoy: How come allegedly harmless students living together had machine guns? Advani needs to amp up his filmmaking abilities.
We rest our case.