Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Amitabh Bachchan
Badla is an official adaptation of the 2016 Spanish movie The Invisible Guest. I purposely didn’t watch that film because I didn’t want to taint my experience of this one. Despite that, about halfway through Badla, I predicted the end. Which isn’t a sign of how smart I am. It’s more an indication that this film isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.
The good thing is that director Sujoy Ghosh, who also adapted the screenplay, wastes no time in getting started. We are immediately thrust into the cat-and-mouse-game with the murder-accused Naina meeting her potential lawyer, Badal Gupta. He obviously wants nothing but the truth but Naina is an unreliable narrator. They spar with versions of the narrative and what really happened on that fateful day when Naina’s lover was found dead in a hotel room, his head soaked in blood and his body, sprinkled with money. She was in the room with him. There is no sign of another person entering or exiting so did Naina commit the murder?
Naina is a fascinating suspect. She loves her husband and daughter but sees no contradiction in having an affair. We are repeatedly told that she’s won an award for businessperson of the year, which means she’s smart, ambitious and powerful. The film is anchored by over-the-shoulder shots and close-ups of her and Badal matching wits across a dining table in Naina’s apartment. So the weight of the film rests largely on Taapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bachchan who play these characters. They are both perfectly efficient but not striking in the way that they were in Pink, where also they played client and lawyer. Taapsee isn’t able to fully juice Naina’s twistedness. She plays her as sullen and scheming but doesn’t plumb her depth or complexity.
Glasgow becomes more than a backdrop – Sujoy and DOP Avik Mukhopadhyay present a beautiful but brooding and ominous space that feels cold, both literally and figuratively
What keeps Badla going are the many turns of the screw. Nothing is what it seems. And the battle of truth between lawyer and client keeps you gripped. It’s also a pleasure to see Amrita Singh, who is back on screen after two years. She really should work more often. Amrita, with a steely determination in her eyes, brings an emotional heft to the film. Her character gives the plot a poignancy. Clinton Cerejo’s background score adds to the suspense and at least in a few places, you will hold your breath.
Because Sujoy knows how to craft tension. Characters and locations drive his films with secrets being revealed along the way. Remember how Kolkata loomed large in Kahaani and Mumbai in Jhankaar Beats? Here Glasgow becomes more than a backdrop – Sujoy and DOP Avik Mukhopadhyay present a beautiful but brooding and ominous space that feels cold, both literally and figuratively.
Eventually however, the narrative flattens out. It becomes too evident where the various strands are leading. And the big reveal of what actually happened feels implausible even though the script offers some explanation for it.
Badla remains watchable until the end but it doesn’t become essential viewing. I’m going with two and a half stars.