Director: Sriram Raghavan
“Don’t Miss the Beginning”, the posters of the film ordered. Dutifully, I landed up at the first day first show screening. A Sriram Raghavan film is usually something to look forward to. Ek Hasina Thi and Agent Vinod have their sets of fans and naysayers. But Johnny Gaddaar is universally liked. True to its claim, the film begins with a terrific ‘post-heist’ scene. A casual shot of a road in Pune ends up as a double murder of a mother and child. The sudden shift from calm to violence will have your heart pounding. One of the perpetrators, Vinay Pathak escapes with the loot and the other one, Nawazuddin Siddiqui has no option but to surrender. We learn that the aggrieved father/husband is Varun Dhawan who for once, emotes the way one would emote in real life. Without resorting to theatrics. Nawazuddin denies he had anything to do with the murder and does not divulge details of his partner in crime. He is sentenced to twenty years in prison.
So this is how things stand. Nawazuddin is in a prison in Bombay and Dhawan is on the outside twiddling his thumbs, looking for means to extract revenge. From Pune, he moves to Badlapur, a place that must have been chosen only because it has the word ‘badla’ in it. This far, the film is terrific. Sriram’s attention to detail is applause worthy. Notice the street dog chasing the getaway car or Dhawan’s house that actually looks lived in rather than a set created just hours before canning the shot. It’s when Dhawan starts plotting his revenge that gradually things begin to crumble. In fact I use the word ‘plotting’ very loosely. He does not seem to have a definite agenda or a clear goal and performs random acts of violence as he goes along. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself questioning Dhawan’s motives for most part.
The blame for the incoherence should squarely fall on the shoulders of the trio of writers, Sriram, his brother Shridhar and Arijit Biswas. It may have started out as a right idea but as they progress with the story, they are unable to tie loose ends together. The influence of violent Korean thrillers lingers in the air as a very unsure looking Dhawan does things aimed at shocking you rather than taking the next logical step for an avenger. You know the writers are running out of steam when they resort to lame devices like co-incidence and supertitles to lazily indicate efflux of time. But the ultimate downer is the climax where a sort-of twist is introduced. And just to make sure you don’t miss it, a character comes and spells it out. Oh well.
Varun Dhawan is the biggest casualty of the weak script. Otherwise a good actor, Badlapur sees him out of his depth as he himself is not sure whether to show remorse or anger or pathos or a mixture of all of the above. On the other hand, there is Nawazuddin who by now does not even need a script to play a despicable low-life from the lowest strata of society. He is smashing no doubt, but typecast. Huma Qureshi plays a prostitute who suffers from the Kareena Kapoor syndrome where you are too glamorous to play this kind of role. Neither does the make-up, nor your acting help you in lending credibility to your character. The rest of the cast comprises of capable actors like Vinay Pathak, Kumud Mishra, Divya Dutta and Radhika Apte who also are victims of the script. Yami Gautam is perhaps the only one left unscathed because she is bumped off early and then seen only in flashbacks.
A few scenes ended abruptly making me suspect that underneath all the chaos and on the editing table, there lies a movie that Raghavan set out to make. That would be a movie that will make sense of the sudden changes of motive for the lead actor, offering an insight into his character. The scenes will smoothly transition from one to another, rather than jerking back and forth, leaving you baffled. That would be a film to behold. But this is not that film.