Badlapur review: Varun is a miscast but Nawazuddin and the supporting actors are outstanding
The first 10-odd minutes of Badlapur are beautifully-crafted. It's also the prelude to a letdown because it turns out that's all Badlapur has: a superb beginning. Almost everything that follows is missable.
Sriram Raghavan's new film's title comes with a helpful tip for audiences. The censor certificate preceding the actual film informs us that it's titled Badlapur: Don't Miss The Beginning. The tagline is a critically important detail.
The first 10-odd minutes of Badlapur are beautifully-crafted. A simple, everyday street scene takes on terrifying proportions. Taut with tension, unpredictable and dramatic, it's a powerful opening sequence. It's also the prelude to a letdown because it turns out that's all Badlapur has: a superb beginning. Almost everything that follows is missable.
Inspired by a real-life incident, Badlapur is about two men who are haunted by a crime that one of them committed. Raghu (Varun Dhawan) is an advertising executive with a picture perfect life that is savaged unexpectedly when his wife (Yami Gautam) and son encounter the bank robber Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Two things appear to be constant over the next 15 years: Raghu's violent grief and Liak's sly cheekiness.
However, there are actually many twists in this tale. Whether it's the prostitute Jhimli (Huma Qureshi) or the inspector in charge of Liak's case (Kumud Mishra), no one in Badlapur is quite what they seem. The two exceptions are Yami Gautam and Radhika Apte's characters. They're the two good wives of Badlapur and both pay dearly for their untwisted simplicity. It's interesting that both of them do what they do selflessly, in order to protect the ones they love — one tries to protect her son; the other, her husband. But in face of the adrenaline rush of violence, their love stands no chance.
There is a fantastic plot lurking in Badlapur, but to find the intriguing ideas in Raghavan's new film, the audience has to fish deep below some painfully mediocre acting from Dhawan, awkward writing and terribly-paced storytelling. You know there's something seriously awry when even after four dead bodies, one rape, many punches and a soundtrack that's full doom-tinged songs and ominous drum tracks, the audience keeps checking their mobile to see how much longer till the end.
Varun Dhawan deserves a box of cupcakes for accepting the challenge of his role in Badlapur. It's a far cry from the carefree dudes he's played on screen so far, but despite his enthusiasm, the young actor is terribly miscast.
It's not just because putting on weight, growing a beard and getting a haircut don't actually age Dhawan. He lacks the maturity — and perhaps the talent, but we'll know that only after Dhawan gains some life experience — to bring out the nuances that would make Raghu's character interesting.
In the hope of seeming grown up, Dhawan clamps his face into an expressionless mask, snapping out of it to either deliver menacing glares that are so over-the-top that they verge on comedy, or to surrender to the tear-inducing powers of glycerine. Raghu should have been chilling and unnerving. Instead, as Dhawan plays him, Raghu is simply bland. Raghavan tries to camouflage him by casting wonderful actors like Kumud Mishra and Ashwini Kalsekar in the supporting cast, but it doesn't really work.
In contrast, we have Siddiqui, who initially appears to be playing a variation of the cheerful maniac villain in Kick. Sometimes funny, sometimes cunning and occasionally heartwarming, Liak is entertaining and Siddiqui expertly milks the dialogues and scenes he has for maximum effect. It's quite ironic that Siddiqui, and not Dhawan, is the one who gets the whistles and cheers of approval from the crowds despite not being 'hero material'.
Will it be enough to convince someone in Bollywood to give Siddiqui something different to perform? For now, he seems to have cornered the market for the Bad Guy With Nuances And Punchlines and you might find yourself wondering whether you've seen Siddiqui play this role before.
In fact, all of Badlapur feels vaguely familiar because the aesthetic and storytelling are so heavily inspired by modern Korean noir, in which everyday people reveal themselves to be capable of extraordinary cruelty. What Badlapur lacks, however, is their tautness. By the time interval strikes, you realise you've spent the better part of an hour watching a plot that doesn't progress because it wants to unveil a grand surprise to the audience in the second half.
The tempo does pick up after the interval, but at the expense of logic and it isn't enough to whip up our flagging interest in Raghu and Liak. Part of the problem is that there is no tension in Badlapur. Liak and Raghu circle each other from safe distances. There's no threat to Liak's life or to that of anyone he cares about. Raghu's actions become increasingly illogical and his motivations become difficult to fathom. The last part is intentional, but it doesn't help to hold the attention of an audience that cares less and less for Raghu.
Logic in general goes down the drain as Badlapur progresses. For instance, why would a well to-do businessman (with no apparent criminal connection) not turn to the police when he's threatened by a random stranger who makes crazy eyes and ignores a delicious pomfret dish?
Given the man runs a successful restaurant, it's impossible he doesn't have friends among the local police. Does it make sense that a man would stash Rs 2.5 crores in an unsealed vat, in a warehouse that (presumably) has hundreds of people working in it? At one point in the film, the police claims to have enough evidence (including DNA) to make an arrest, but they ignore all that because someone else comes forward and admits to the crime. What is this place where it doesn't strike the police that their evidence is enough to prove the confession is false?
The answer is in the name: it's Badlapur. And if you do see the film, don't miss the beginning. Really.
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