In this series, Gayle Sequeira picks movies of the past decade with great first and last shots and asks directors to break down how they came up with them, shot them and what their significance is.
Sriram Raghavan's 2015 revenge drama Badlapur opens with the intriguing text: Don't miss the beginning. Only when it does begin, it's oddly placid for a thriller. There's a bank heist, but we don't see it unfold. There's greater turmoil in the film's last shot, in which Raghu (Varun Dhawan), who lost his wife and child in the robbery, finally gets his revenge and is struck by the realization that life is still as empty.
Raghavan talks about how the opening shot sprung from his desire to do something radically different from his previous film Agent Vinod (2012) and the alternate ending Badlapur almost had:
The film opens with a static shot of MG Road in Pune in broad daylight. A mother buys vegetables, makes small talk with the vendor, traffic passes by. There's nothing to suggest it's anything but an ordinary day – unless you're watching the background closely. Two men exit a bank. It's still calm. They then try to make a getaway, with horrifying consequences.
"I do think of the first and last scenes a lot, and within that, there's the first and last shot. Badlapur's beginning was scripted, it's not like we shot various things and then decided what we wanted to start with. The beginning of the film sets the tone, lets the viewer know what to expect. I had just finished Agent Vinod, which was not really satisfying to me as a filmmaker or to viewers because the bulk of it was just chaotic chases. So I thought, 'Let me just go the opposite route and treat the opening in a minimalistic way.' That's why we have a one-shot, almost like a documentary feel to it. A lot of things are happening, but only if you want to see them. If you don't, you'll realize you've missed something.
There are two reasons we put: Don't miss the beginning. One is I wanted that as the tagline but the tagline usually gets lost after the first poster. Luckily, there was a film called Badlapur Boys and they said we couldn't use 'Badlapur' as the title unless there was something more to it. So the censor certificate of our film is Badlapur: Don't Miss The Beginning. Which is mad. The other reason is that if you miss the first five minutes, you don't know if Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is telling the truth when he says he didn't kill Raghu's wife. I wanted the viewers to know what really happened even if Raghu doesn't. Usually people take it for granted that everything is being established in the first five minutes, so I wanted to start with a bang so people had to see the beginning.
Bank robberies at the start of movies are very exciting, they have a lot of cinematic scope. There's this film called Touch of Evil (1958) that has a famous three-and-a-half-minute opening shot. It's a superb mise-en-scene. I initially wanted to do something like that – start with guys on a bike and then move into the bank – but that would require a lot of choreography, logistics, blocking of roads. My DoP Anil Mehta and I thought we'd just put the camera at a bus stop, as if we're there, watching. I was not worried it would be a slow beginning because it picks up like mad, the kid gets killed, she gets killed. It's a shocking opening actually, to prepare the audience for the kind of movie it is. It's terrifying.
We shot at MG Road, Pune. We had hidden the camera inside a well-camouflaged Maruti van. No one knew there was a shoot going on. No one in the unit had walkie talkies. We had a mix of junior artistes and actual passersby because we had not blocked the road. There was a signal a 100 metres away so we were timing when the green light would come. We rehearsed the previous day because we had to finish filming before 8 am on that day – after that, the shops open and the street becomes crowded. After the rehearsal, I remember Anil gave everyone a big firing, 'This went wrong! That went wrong!' It was an expensive rehearsal but it gave us a sense of how things would go. We did five takes the next day smoothly. It looks simple but was complicated because there was real traffic plus our stunt bike had to crash into the car. It was one of those heart-in-mouth moments for us. I normally don't even have chai with sugar but I was so happy with how it turned out, I had a cream roll at a tapri that day."
Raghu, who's spent the last 15 years stewing in single-minded thoughts of revenge, finally gets it. There's no satisfaction, only loneliness. Alone, and directionless for the first time in more than a decade, he looks to the sky as if in search of something to give his life purpose now.
"Some people didn't like the ending but I think they're wrong. Our ending isn't really an ending, the film suddenly stops and you wonder, 'Okay, now what?' I wanted people to come out thinking that. There should've been some silence after that, maybe some music and then it should've faded to black. One huge mistake we made was putting a music video immediately after the film ends. I didn't want it but somehow when my producer Dinesh Vijan did, I said okay. Then I saw it on screen for the first time and realized it was a ghastly mistake I have to live with. It's a good song but it breaks the mood. I wish I could've removed it. Whenever I show the film to people, I tell them to shut it off after the last scene.
Ideally, the film should've ended with Raghu looking up at the sky. It's a terrific mood. Dinesh was terrified of this ending, he said no one would get it. He wanted me to put a voiceover in the end explaining why Liak did what he did (taking the fall for Raghu's crimes). We recorded a voiceover and showed it to a few people. Luckily, David Dhawan thought it was idiotic. So we removed it.
There was another ending in the script but we didn't even shoot it. So Raghu gets the fake passport and the money and he goes to the international airport. We see the passport with his photo and a fake name, we see the bag which presumably has all the money. When he boards the flight, he leaves the bag behind. The last shot is the bomb squad approaching the bag. That end had no reason to be there, it was just us trying to be clever. It's visually spectacular, but not our story.
So the actual ending wasn't planned. We wanted to do the airport scene but when we were shooting the scene that's now the ending, at this warehouse near Nasik, the light was going and it had begun to rain and I thought that shot was damn good. Anil was like, 'Oh shit, you're going to use this as the last shot, aren't you?' Sometimes, you just get a sense – this is it."