Badla: Sujoy Ghosh’s apparently intriguing crime thriller is a wasted potential
Movie Review by Surangama Guha Roy (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Director Sujoy Ghosh has pulled yet another thriller out of his hat, after Kahaani and Kahaani 2. Badla is an official remake of the taut Spanish thriller The Invisible Guest; yet, for all its twists and turns, you leave the cinema hall with more questions than answers at the end of its rather abrupt 2 hours runtime.
Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu), a successful entrepreneur, is found locked in a hotel room, with the corpse of her boyfriend Arjun (Tony Luke). Naina insists that she has been framed for a crime she has not committed, and the rest of the film unfolds like a cat-and-mouse chamber drama, across a table, as Naina sits with her high-profile lawyer, senior advocate Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan); the two engage in a gripping verbal exchange, as each tries to figure out how much the other knows, and what lies are being told.
The plot, with its stark, Agatha Christie-esque set-up, brims with dramatic potential and compelling suspense. Both Bachchan and Pannu are in good shape, although the latter struggles to emote, causing her performance to lack depth, hence honesty. Bachchan, though, is in impeccable form, and spouts references to the Mahabharata with his trademark elegance and grandeur. Another person who steals the show in every scene she appears, is Amrita Singh. Singh is vulnerable, yet exudes strength and conviction, and gives the other actors in the film a run for their money.
However, good whodunits are always a tough nut to crack, and although Ghosh should be a seasoned hand in this particular genre by now, Badla lacks conviction in its execution. The screenplay is sharp, the narrative complex and layered, yet the script falls short of the vast possibilities that the plot could have offered. Thus, there are loopholes galore, and loose ends that never quite get tied up. The audience is left guessing and assuming, even after the end credits roll, and that is exactly how a potentially nail-biting, neatly crafted suspense thriller nosedives into becoming just an above average, rather predictable murder mystery.
Avik Mukhopadhyay’s confident cinematography adds layers to the cold, grim context of the film. The editing is crisp, the dialogues written by Sujoy Ghosh and Raj Vasant are well-thought out, and on hind sight, generous in giving out clues. The film mounts admirably, but as the narrative twists its way towards the big, albeit predictable reveal, the denouement feels like a bit of a let-down. You knew all along that something was fishy, and when you are proved right, you somehow feel deflated.
Badla has an intriguing premise that could have been made into a masterpiece, but remains a premise with possibilities that somehow lost itself in its own intrigue. We know Sujoy Ghosh is capable of more, for Kahaani remains one of the best made thrillers of all times in popular Indian cinema. Yet, in both Kahaani 2 and now Badla, the director failed to live up to the expectations he had himself created, and we were left yearning for more. Here’s hoping that the magic has not fizzled out completely, for who doesn’t love a mind-numbing, juicy little mystery?