April issue 2019
Movie Review: Badla
Adapted from the 2016 Spanish box office hit, Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest), the Bollywood film Badla is a sophisticated crime thriller that requires close attention, particularly to the dialogues, that lead to a totally unexpected end. Central to the plot is a story of betrayal, deceit and an accident that went horribly wrong. The film follows Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan), a highly reputed defence attorney who arrives at the apartment of his newest client, Naina Sehti (Taapsee Pannu), an entrepreneur who has built a successful corporate business.
Naina is also an out-on-bail homicide suspect and about to stand trial for the murder of her secret lover, a photographer named Arjun Joseph (Tony Luke), who was mysteriously found dead in an out-of-the-way hotel in the Scottish countryside. Naina insists she has been wrongfully implicated in his murder by unknown persons.
Till her arrest, Naina was an ambitious young businesswoman on the verge of clinching a major Japanese deal and living the perfect life with a caring husband and a young daughter. Jimmy Punjabi (Manav Kaul), a close lawyer friend and colleague of Naina’s, arranges for the distinguished Gupta, who hasn’t lost a case in 40 years, to represent her. An expert in witness preparation, Gupta informs Naina that Jimmy had to coax him to take up her case as his last, before his forthcoming retirement – however, it was conditional on Naina being completely forthcoming with the truth.
A long interrogative encounter ensues between the attorney and client and both, Gupta and Naina, try to reconstruct what happened on that fateful night of the murder. The debate turns into a battle of wits as Naina narrates her version of the incident through flashbacks, while Gupta pokes holes in her explanations. The plot thickens when the legal eagle repeatedly challenges that her claims do not hold water. Gupta makes it clear that for a watertight defence, he needs to know the truth, or alternatively come up with scenarios that would appear more plausible to the police and the court.
Adding to the pressure, is also the fact that both, the attorney and the client, have only three hours to go before a surprise witness by the prosecution is scheduled to give a damning deposition against Naina before the police and a judge. The conversation between Gupta and Naina becomes intense as they keep going back and forth peddling various scenarios over the mystery of Joseph’s murder, and possibly that of another young man in the Scottish countryside, where she was having an affair. The various versions are perplexing and the focus of the crime(s) keeps shifting in the course of two hours. Other characters and their roles emerge, most significantly that of Rani Kaul (Amrita Singh).
Director Sujoy Ghosh has followed the original plot of Contratiempo to the letter, except for the location, which has been shifted from Spain to Scotland, and the gender of the protagonist, who is shown as a married businesswoman-of-the-year having a clandestine affair, instead of a businessman as in the original film. Ghosh has executed a taut adaptation of the thriller, maintaining the initial suspense on a slow burner that subsequently develops into gripping entertainment. With his powerful screen presence, Big B gives a spellbinding performance as the brilliant lawyer who tests his client’s integrity, while Pannu as his client Naina, is equally convincing, and keeps you guessing about her guilt – or innocence. Badla falls in the genre of the classic murder mystery that needs a second viewing to discern the key details one may have missed the first time round. And it is definitely worth a watch.
The writer is a documentary filmmaker and activist. She is working with the Newsline as editorial assistant.