While thinking about the different villains to choose from for writing this article, I realized how little we remember of them. The obvious choices come to mind: Mogambo or Langda Tyagi or literally anyone from Gangs of Wasseypur. But beyond these few well-known names, nobody seems to be remembered. This is also partially due to the fact that most of the villains are de facto shown as purely evil. But there are some names who tread so well between the grey areas of right and wrong, good and evil, that you neither think of them as heroes nor as villains. They play their part with such perfection, that even though their shadow goes unnoticed in the presence of the hero, their absence is deeply felt. Among the many forgotten names of such villains is Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Liak Tungrekar from Badlapur.
Directed by the master of thrillers Sriram Raghavan, Badlapur is a neo-noir action drama based on an Italian short story Death’s Dark Abyss by Massimo Corlotto. The short story is loosely inspired by the Italian author’s own life, having been charged with a murder that he didn’t commit and losing out on 17 years of his life. But the story in the film is a bit different. We know from the beginning that Liak is the one who killed Misha (Yami Gautam) and Robin (Neel Tyagi), Raghav’s (Varun Dhawan) wife and son. But, all through the police custody and all the years spent in jail, he keeps repeating that it wasn’t him who killed them. He tries to convince everyone and maybe even convince himself that he is not a killer. And maybe he wasn’t. The death of Robin was an accident and killing Misha was purely an impulsive reaction in the heat of the moment. So is he still a killer if it wasn’t his intention to kill them? But, Raghu is not bothered by this question. For him, Liak and his partner are murderers and his sole aim now is to find the partner and kill them both. With the opening of an African proverb, “The axe forgets but the tree remembers,” Raghavan prepares us for a revenge saga that is about to unfold in front of our screens.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Liak Tungrekar is no criminal mastermind or underworld gangster. He is a small-time crook, who decides to go all out for one last time to live the life of his dreams. What is so unique about Liak, or rather common, that it makes me empathize with him is the fact that he is a common man, who has unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. He could be anywhere around us or even in us. He could be the person sitting next to you on a train or a bus or he could also be the person you come across on the streets. Liak chooses a shortcut, like many of us do, to fast-forward his life. But his plan doesn’t work out the way he intended it to and thus lands him in confinement. And here we see the version of Liak who is loyal to his partner and won’t rat out on him. He also remains loyal to his lover, for the moment he gets out of the jail, the first person he goes to see is his girlfriend Jhimli (Huma Qureshi).
Liak Tungrekar feels vaguely similar to Heath Ledger’s Joker, for he rips Varun Dhawan’s Batman of his most beloved companion, Robin. And in this case, his wife too. After that point, Badlapur becomes the journey of Batman taking revenge on Joker for destroying his innocent life. But over the course of the movie, Varun Dhawan’s Batman gradually turns into Joker himself, enacting violence on innocent people out of anger and pain. Unlike Nolan’s Batman, Raghavan’s Batman acts out of vendetta and doesn’t rest until he has avenged the death of his loved ones. And in the process of doing so, turns himself into the very person he loathed.
But more about that in detail some other time. The bottom line is that there is neither hero nor a villain in this great masterpiece, for each character is flawed and broken and dwells between the fine line of good and evil. Or they all are both hero and a villain, for in the shadow of every hero, lies a villain.
Liak is so finely written that not only can he change but he can also forgive. Very rarely do villains get such a redemption arc that proves they are human too and that they are not born but created. By poverty, society, the system and the situations. It is worth noting that it’s not the protagonist but the antagonist of the movie who makes us wonder about what happens after someone’s revenge is completed and if they are still left alive? What do they do after that? Because the only purpose that they had in their life is gone and all they are left with is… nothing. So is revenge worth it? Does it do more good than it does bad? Does it make the pain go away? Does it make it easy to bear the pain? And if it doesn’t do any of these things, then what was the revenge even for?
Villains are not evil by nature. It’s just like Sirius Black said, “We both have light and dark within each of us. It’s what we choose that defines us.” Some may choose light and some may choose darkness and that might define us for a while. But choosing dark once doesn’t mean we can never choose light again. That’s the thing about change. It can happen all the time. And especially in Badlapur.
If you look at it superficially, you think of Badlapur as the place of revenge. But if you look more closely, then you’ll realise that it also means the place of change. And that’s exactly what we witness with Liak Tungrekar. Liak had the chance to make sure that Raghu spent the rest of his life behind the bars just like he did. But he chose to end it right there and then. The cycle of pain and revenge. He proved that the axe did remember and that it was sorry for what it did to the tree. And that he would never have done it if he could change his past. And that he believes in giving second chances, even though he didn’t get one. And maybe this is why I feel that Liak here is the true essence of this story because he embodies the message the director intended to pass on to the audiences.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.