When the first rushes of Sriram Raghavan's Badlapur came out earlier this year, I confess that I was not excited by them. I am not a fan of gore and violence, and I assumed that the film is going to be another revenge saga as the name suggests. Badlapur meaning a place for taking badla or revenge. I thought that it would be similar to Ghajini or Ek Villain; films which I did not like at all. I watched the film two days ago with a bit of trepidation but I was proved wrong. The film is not as violent as I expected and is, in fact, deeply philosophical. Revenge or badla is the underlying theme of the movie, but the film is also about change or badla. It is as much a story of redemption and forgiveness.
Badlapur is primarily the story of Raghu (Varun Dhawan) and Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Raghu's wife Misha (Yami Gautam) and his son Robin (Neel Tyagi) are killed by Liak and his partner Harman (Vinay Pathak) after a bank robbery. Liak is caught by the police and given a twenty year prison sentence, while Harman escapes. After fifteen years, Liak is released as he is suffering from cancer. Raghu, meanwhile, has gone into a complete shell. He is overwhelmed by his immense grief and solitude. He is unable to cope with the loss. He plots to take revenge from Liak and Harman. He kills Harman and his wife Kanchan (Radhika Apte), and steals Liak's share of money. In a stunning reversal, Liak lies to the police that he committed the murder of Harman and goes back to jail, giving Raghu a chance to start over. The film underscores the futility of revenge, and highlights the change in a persona that grief can bring. It emphasizes the importance of second chances, and, perhaps, learning to let go. It also talks about not only helping reform the prisoners but also helping the survivors of grief.
As I said earlier, the film is more about badla or change. In fact, the title has special significance. We see a train station named Badlapur many a time in the film. In an interview, Sriram Raghavan explained the meaning of this. At one time, Badlapur used to be one of the stations where the trains would change tracks. This aspect is significant in the film because the station features in the backdrop when the plot undergoes a change. Thus, Badlapur is more about the change rather than only revenge. Raghu transforms from a victim to a criminal, while Liak transforms from someone who is considered a bad influence on society to someone who becomes a role model in terms of forgiveness. Badlapur is the place where this transformation happened in both the characters, thus, the name is befitting.
The film credits the story to Massimo Carlotto. As per Wikipedia, Massimo is an Italian writer who is considered as one of the finest writers of noir. The story is Death's Dark Abyss, whose plot synopsis is as follows. "A riveting drama of guilt, revenge, and justice, Massimo Carlotto's Death's Dark Abyss tells the story of two men and the savage crime that binds them. During a robbery, Raffaello Beggiato takes a young woman and her child hostage and later murders them. Beggiato is arrested, tried, and sentenced to life. The victims' father and husband, Silvano, is undone by his loss. He plunges into an ever-deepening abyss until the day, years later, when the murderer seeks his pardon, and the wounded Silvano turns predator as he ruthlessly plots his revenge." This is the perfect summary of Badlapur, too.
In addition, at two places in the film, we see that characters are reading Daphne Du Maurier's Don't Look Now. The book, which was also made into a thriller film of the same name by Nicolas Roeg in 1973, focuses "on the psychology of grief, and the effect the death of a child can have on a relationship," like Badlapur. Raghavan, thus, has adapted his story from some of the legends of writing and cinema. Interestingly, Daphne's other novels Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, and her short story The Birds were made into films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Raghavan has spoken in numerous interviews about the influence Hitchcock has on his films. In Badlapur, he adapts other film of Daphne. In Johnny Gaddar, we saw characters reading James Headley Chase's The Whiff Of Money and R.K. Narayan's Guide, there is never a lack of interesting things to observe in his films. In fact, a Sriram Raghavan film without detailed references is like a computer without the Internet — boring and useless. It is the minute layers that accentuate his films and like his other films, Badlapur is full of references, too.
The film beautifully shows us the similarities between Raghu and Liak. At a surface level, it is hard to imagine that there could be any but at many times, we see that their lives are remarkably alike but the differences come in their outlook towards life. The love that both of them have for their lovers can make them do anything. For instance, Raghu is heartbroken after Misha's death and for fifteen years, he has her memories locked within him. He does not move on. On the other hand, Liak loves Jhimli with the same intensity as Raghu loved Misha. When Raghu incites Liak by indicating that he slept with Jhimli, Liak is incensed and wants to punch Raghu at that time. When Liak comes back after fifteen years, he goes and meets Jhimli as he has not forgotten her all this while and still dreams of spending his last few days with her. In another instance, when Shobha (Divya Dutta) comes and asks for Raghu's pardon for Liak, she makes a poignant statement, "Tum to khud apni jail me kaid ho." If Liak was incarcerated in an actual prison, Raghu is trapped in his own mental prison. In fact, Raghu goes and books a lodge for himself and when he is asked for how long he will stay, he replied twenty years, the same time period for which Liak was sentenced again indicating that both of them are prisoners. Both of them had tremendous patience to wait for fifteen years to get to their aim. In another scene, Inspector Mishra when investiating the murder of Harman and his wife, he says that both Liak and Raghu liked food. In one of the best scenes in the movie, when Liak and Raghu fight with each other, Liak actually says that there is no difference between the two of them. He killed Misha and his son, but Raghu killed Harman and his wife, so how are they any different? Liak says, "Mera garam dimaag ho gaya tha, tera to toh thanda dimaag tha. Do logon ko maar diya hatode se. Aur vo bhi nirdosh. Kya farak hai tere aur mere me?" It was one of the most powerful scenes of the movie, and by the end of it, I had no sympathy for Raghu and his absolutely cold-hearted personality. Perhaps, that explains the film's poster where both of them are looking into each other. They are similar like images but yet they are different. The difference between them was in their spirit. Liak was an optimist, despite being in jail, he never gave up. He tried to take life as it came. He tried to escape jail many times, but Raghu was a pessimist. It is understandable about his grief but he was just focused only on getting revenge. At the risk of being called vulgar and cheap, I want to make a point. When having sex with Jhimli, Raghu penetrates her from the back, while in a later scene, Liak also has sex with a prostitute, but he penetrates from the front. Some reviews described the first instance as unnatural, but it is interesting to note this difference in terms of who is natural (Liak) and who is unnatural (Raghu). Though the film must be commended on the fact, unlike sterotypical portrayals in cinema, when hero's wife dies, he becomes celibate, Badlapur shows that the hero does have sexual needs even he if is not in love. Even Liak is in love with Jhimli, but that does not stop him from sleeping with another woman.
Raghavan also talks to us about opportunities and second chances. In an earlier scene, Misha says a famous quote by Shakespeare, "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." The quote is from Julius Caesar (which is also a revenge drama). The quote means that if you have a favorable opportunity to do something, do it, or you will lose your chance. Ride the tide of opportunity when it’s high, or at the flood, and you’ll be carried on to success; let it pass, and you’ll be stuck in the shallows of unfulfillment. Misha and Raghu decided to get married as they thought it was the best time for them as she was pregnant. Later, Jhimli comes and explains to Raghu the reason behind Liak turning himself into prison for a crime he did not commit. She says, "Tere ko dusra chance dene ke liye. Sabko nahi milta dusra chance." And, that is why at the end of the story, Liak became the greater of a man. As compared to Raghu's cold-bloodedness, Liak atoned for his sins in prison and extracted his revenge by giving a chance to Raghu. He understood the futility of the battles they were fighting, and had the gumption to let go and give somebody a second chance because not everyone gets one. As they said in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, "Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss." Liak gave a second chance to Raghu, where as Raghu was not willing to do that. So, who is the hero and the villain here? It is also worth noting that an earlier point in the film, we see a statue of Gandhi who talked about the same thing. "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." Certainly, it ain't easy to forgive and forget, but if everyone indulged in revenge, there will no victors and the vicious cycle would continue. And, though the film begins by an African proverb, "The axe forgets but the tree remembers," by the end of the movie, there is again a badla in the film's message. Perhaps, to let the tree also forget and flourish again.
As if there were not enough revenge-based metaphors, Badlapur has another reference. Earlier in the film, we see that Raghu and his son are dressed as the famous duo Batman and Robin in a picture. The name of Raghu's son in the film is actually Robin. Batman is another superhero with a theme of revenge. Having witnessed the murder of his parents as a child, he swore revenge on criminals. Thus, Raghu in some ways had characteristics of Batman. Interestingly, during the song Badla Badla, the lyrics talks about the change in Raghu and during that song, we see a policeman asking Raghu his name. Then, the policeman says that he is a joker as if our Batman has turned into Joker, the most dangerous villain that Batman had to fight. It is a terrific insight on the theme of change. The hero has become the anti-hero. Who is Batman and who is Joker?
Batman and Robin
I was also intrigued by the religious references in the film. The biggest I felt was karma. Liak got stomach cancer while in jail. Perhaps, it was God's way of giving punishment for his sins. He is already dead so what will Raghu get by killing him? Religious might not the right term, but maybe spiritual references in the film. Of the many depictions of jails in Hindi films, I was surprised by the pictures of spiritual gurus in jails and police stations in the film. As India is a secular state, I am not sure that overt depictions of any religion are allowed but given the realism of the film, it came as something totally new to me. Also, this points to the deeper theme of the movie itself of forgiveness. There are Christian priests, Shirdi Sai Baba, and Buddha statues. At one point, we also see a Zen poster. It is really interesting. There is also a lovely Marathi bhajan in the film Ye Re Ghana composed by Hridyanath Mangeshkar that talks about calling the rain to come and purify the singer's mind and soul.
There are some historical inaccuracies in the film. I have no problem with these but if a film is trying to be authentic, then, it is worth pointing out. One minute into the film and we hear the song Main Nikla Gaddi Leke from Gadar. Immediately, after that, the first scene shows a poster of Lagaan. The film tells us that Misha and Robin were killed on May 27, 2000. But what is interesting is both Gadar and Lagaan were released on the same day in 2001 — 15th June. It is unlikely that film posters and songs were released more than one year before the film released. Also, during the first few scenes, we see SUVs; there were no SUVs at that time. It is worth pointing out because in a later scene, Raghu uses Yellow Pages to find a detective and has a Nokia phone. Nothing incriminating but again, just for the sake of completeness, so if a film wants to be authentic, everything should be, no? Now, fifteen years later, we see a poster of another Aamir Khan film — PK which released in 2014.
There are other references as well. In jail, Liak watches Sholay and gets inspired by Gabbar to escape jail. At another point, prisoners in the jail call Liak as Kaalia and sing the iconic song Kaun Kisi Ko Badh Saka from Kaalia. There is also a reference to Charles Shobhraj who escaped from prison fourteen times. In a hilarious scene, when being asked to describe the sketch of his accomplice, he describes Ranjeet. Liak was awesome.
There are references to other songs, too. At one point, we hear Aa Chal Ke Tujhe from Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Me. Later, we hear Ek Ajnabi Hasina Se from Ajnabee. There is also a reference to Tum Hi Ho Bandhu from Cocktail. The Bhojpuri film playing in the theatre is Nirhua Mail with the song Kamar Hilela (its YouTube video has over a million views!).
There is a lot of emphasis that the film puts on its beginning that even its tag line and certificate includes the tag line "Don't miss the beginning" which is actually wonderfully shot and executed. Watch the bone chilling scene of Robin's blood being washed from the knife, and his lifeless hand.
In the title credits, Raghavan pays tribute to Don Siegel. Don was an American filmmaker and director known for his exceptional and stylish thriller films. Never ending references!
There is one repeating metaphor of food that I did not fully comprehend. Still thinking about it. There is a theme of food being talked about and shown, such as mutton, sandwich, Chines, Mexican, etc. There is definitely some link, which needs to be elaborated.
The performance by each cast member is wonderful. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, like always, steals the show. I loved Pratima Kannan and Radhika Apte, too. There is immense strength in their characters that they will do anything for love. Nawazuddin's scenes with Huma Quereshi are charming. Their relationship is one of the most beautiful things in the film, their love survived all odds. Varun Dhawan is excellent. He is a terrific romantic actor. I loved him in the scene with Yami Gautam when he grabs her arm and says that he wants her and he won't let her go.
While watching the film, I could not stop thinking of the similarities between Badlapur and Talaash. Both films are based on the theme of grief of a parent losing a child. In Talaash, Taimur (Nawazzuddin Siddiqui) had a splendid relationship with a prostitute Nirmala (Sheeba Chaddha), like in Badlapur, his relationship with Jhimli. In Talaash, there was a theme of revenge, too, where Rosie (Kareena Kapoor) wanted to avenge her death, like the theme of revenge here. There are also similar instances of using dogs as well in both the films :)
Books In Films:-
Dukh Me Khush Kyon Aur Kaise Rahein
Tribulation Force — Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
Notes From A Small Island — Bill Bryson
This is just for the paintings which I like :)
Badlapur is a fantastic film. It gives one so much to think about, and so much to research. As Anupama Chopra wrote in her review of Johnny Gaddar, "When you get bored, you can always play spot-the-reference." That is true for Badlapur, too.
Dialogue of the Day:
Raajhan dhoondan main chaliya,
Raajhan mileya naa ye,
Jigra vichh agan lagaa ke Rabba,
Lakeera vichh likhdi judaai.
— Judaai, Badlapur
P.S. — I still remember eleven years ago in January 2004, I first watched Sriram Raghavan's first film Ek Hasina Tha at Chanakya—my favorite theater. I was in Class 11th and before that, it was very rarely I used to go theater to watch films; used to watch movies only at home and the big ones in a theater. But it was the first movie that I started watching on the big screen that was not a big one, and after that I did not stop. It helped me develop my love for the movies, so that movie will always be special :)