Remakes are always tricky, especially when it is an investigative thriller. It becomes even trickier when the original film is available on streaming platforms, and its Wikipedia page gives out every plot detail. However, Sujoy Ghosh, whose 2012 film, 'Kahaani', changed the landscape of Bollywood thrillers, knows a thing or two about delivering a taut whodunit. And helping the filmmaker deliver a solid remake of the 2017 Spanish film, The Invisible Guest (Contratiempo), is the impeccable Amitabh Bachchan as Advocate Badal Gupta and Taapsee Pannu as the cornered Naina Sethi.
Naina is the prime accused in the murder trial of Arjun (Tony Luke), and it is up to Badal to help her clear her name. While the advocate-client characterisation of Amitabh and Taapsee might remind you of Shoojit Sircar’s Pink, the equation they share right from the first frame in Badla removes any such similarities. Neither is he a washed out lawyer, nor is she just another urban woman caught in a problem.
Naina is a high-profile businesswoman, who steadfastly argues that someone has framed her, and Badal is a hotshot lawyer, who has reasons to believe that she isn’t telling him everything. “Everyone has a different version of truth, and the belief lies in the details,” says Badal. And it is these different versions that play out as the lawyer and client play mind games with each other to slowly unravel the layers in this murder case.
However, what makes the case even more interesting are the characters in the periphery. Be it the missing man, the grieving family, or the dysfunctional relationship, these details keep you invested. I liked how Sujoy teases the audience with hints throughout the film. He doesn’t want to deliberately confuse the audience but simply prods them to observe better. It gives you a sense of satisfaction, as though you were doing some solid detective work yourself.
Both Taapsee and Amitabh are in top form, and the oscillating power dynamics between the two makes for an engaging watch. Taapsee delivers an astounding performance as she aces the complex role of Naina and stands her ground opposite the veteran actor. The performances of the supporting cast is impressive too. I am quite enjoying the second coming of actor Amrita Singh, who yet again, delivers a memorable portrayal — this time, as the grieving mother, Rani Kaur.
Avik Mukhopadhyay’s cinematography and Monisha R Baldawa’s editing add necessary nuances to this chamber drama. It was thrilling to note how the initially shaky frames, and frequent reaction shots, make way for more stable frames and longer shots as the trust and rapport develop between Naina and Badal. As the film has minimal characters, the well-written dialogues by Sujoy and Raj Vasant turn out to be a lifeline. For instance, a throwaway line from Naina about knowing only the plotline of Mahabharata evolves into something bigger towards the end.
It is clear from Sujoy’s films that he is fascinated by the Mahabharata. Just like every other thriller from Sujoy, Badla too has the proverbial twist towards the end, and though it might not exactly blow your socks off ala Kahaani, the Mahabharata reference is pure masala fun.
Badal, in a scene, admonishes Naina for narrating her story with too many convenient coincidences; Sujoy’s adapted screenplay too can be accused of the same. Despite the pacing and forced melodrama in certain portions, the crisp 120-minute runtime does help in keeping you riveted.
As I said earlier, remakes are always tricky, but Sujoy is smart enough to know that there is no need to repair anything that isn’t broken. He delivers this quality product by cleverly masking some glaring loopholes in this legal thriller with his most potent weapons, Taapsee and Amitabh. It is no coincidence that Amitabh is named Badal in the film. He is the heart and soul of the film, and by just doing a small reshuffle of the letters in his name, you get Badla.
Coincidence? Well, no such thing in this film.
Rating: 3.5 stars