One thing a Sriram Raghavan film does not ever lack is atmosphere. Remember the menacing rats in 2004’s Ek Hasina Thi or the crazily inventive heist in Johnny Gaddaar (2007) or the shootout that starts from a baby’s pram in Agent Vinod (2012)? In Badlapur too, the home of a young couple is inhabited by scattered odds and ends of everyday living. A little boy’s toys. His art work. Photographs and a poster where he is Robin to his father’s Batman. Books. Notes. The paraphernalia of happiness and togetherness. And then a man in a home with bare walls that scream desolation like the rain that lashes at his windows.The grimy, violent and yet organised life of prison inmates as they wash clothes, eat, sleep, sneak drinks, fight, work at a cabbage patch and spend years, growing slowly and painfully old.
He is also mostly unerring in his choice of ensemble actors and here too his favourites make an appearance. Vinay Pathak and Ashwini Kalsekar have brief but scene stealing roles. There is the glorious Radhika Apte. The always reliable Divya Dutta. But oh, Nawazuddin Siddqui. In any other actor’s hands, Laik, a hahish addicted, accidental killer without a conscience would have been just one dimensional. But Nawaz turns him into a masterful study of evil, desperation, humanity, heedless greed and finally, a grudging recognition of his own mortality. And ofcourse the chutzpah that he wears like a cheap, heady cologne, The loud glasses he flaunts to get even with an enemy. His messed up and yet imperishable love for his girlfriend.
He references the opportunist of Talaash, willing to risk everything for short-lived joy with his woman but goes beyond him. He is the stranger with shifty eyed swagger who may walk by you on a street anonymously but with a past so frightening that it would chill your blood, if you only knew. He is repelling and yet irresistibly watchable. Watch him trying to escape from a prison as he channels Amitabh Bachchan’s Kaalia and Sholay’s Gabbar or when his eyes soften at the sight of his mother or the last confrontation with his nemesis where he compares an accidental crime to a cold-blooded murder and wonders who is more sick. A criminal who is dying of a terminal disease and the burden of an unlived life. Or the man who is avenging a wrong by committing many more wrongs.
Huma Qureishi once again breathes life in a sketchy role like only she can. The story however is problematic. It begins with a devastating tragedy that shakes you and breaks your heart with its random cruelty and Varun Dhawan completely draws you into his agony, his anger but when the villain of the film becomes more engrossing than the protagonist, we kind of lose the plot.
Dhawan is a young actor, eager to prove a point and he is good but there comes a point when his Raghu becomes a one-note character who vacantly watches nothingness for memories, looks at the world with a cold gaze and a taciturn face and then strikes at his victims with icy precision. Along the way he dehumanises three women and reaches the end of a vendetta that leaves him as bereft as when he first rushed into a hospital to see the end of life as he knew it.
The film finally ends more conclusively for Laik than for him. And there is nothing to take back home except a few exceptional performances and the realisation that Nawazuddin Siddiqui is on his way to becoming a modern legend.