Badla: A masterclass in direction and acting

Even though Badla is an adaptation of the 2017 Spanish film, The Invisible Guest, only a storyteller as remarkable as Sujoy Ghosh could’ve told this story. And he needed actors as powerful as Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu to play his leads in this whodunnit.

The most striking thing about Badla is that there is no build-up. Whatever you need to know about the premise of the story, about where the characters have come from and how they’re related is told to you in the trailer itself, and exactly that much time is spent in the film, informing us about the same. So we find Naina Sethi (Pannu) stuck in a hotel room with the dead body of her lover, Arjun Joseph (Tony Luke). How did he die? What does Advocate Badal Gupta (Bachchan) have to do with her story? Why is Amrita Singh’s Rani Kaur stuck in this loop, and how does she get out of it?

To make a nail biting, edge of the seat thriller, you need a great director to helm the project, and Sujoy Ghosh is just that. After Kahaani (2012) and Ahalya (short film), you expect Ghosh to throw surprise after surprise at you, i the name of an engaging thriller. And Badla promises to be that. Along with co-writer Raj Vasant, Ghosh pens a screenplay and dialogues that create the perfect amount of tension in the room. In fact, I don’t remember watching a Hindi thriller, after Kahaani, and feeling the tension and anxiety that I felt. What adds as a plus to the narrative is Monisha R. Baldawa’s editing, which is done crisply to the T.

I cannot say anything about the film, in respect to the scenes, because those would end up being spoilers but I do want to address that my favourite scenes have to be those with Taapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bachchan sitting at a table, across each other. There is nothing happening, just normal conversation. But with the calibre of Pannu and Bachchan, they take these scenes to another level altogether.

You do not doubt the acting prowess of Amitabh Bachchan, you just don’t. His voice is captivating, eyes are engaging and expressions are endearing. As Badal Gupta, an advocate trying to help a woman in distress, Bachchan holds the character firmly in his grip and plays the lawyer he is supposed to be. But the way he treats his character is very different from what he’s done in the past, as a lawyer in Pink.

Complementing Big B in every step is Taapsee Pannu. She gets more screen time than he does, she has more to do, and shines as much. Over the years, with her choice of films, Pannu has proved that there indeed are very few actors who can do what she can. As Naina Sethi, she is supposed to maintain a straight face while she engages in conversations, moves about town, attends business meeting and plays with her daughter. Naina is not boisterous as Rumi (Manmarziyaan), neither is she a patriot like Aarti (Mulk). She’s stubborn, has a head of her own and will not succumb to things just because she’s supposed to. And Taapsee Pannu is all of this and so much more. As I pointed out, what stuns me the most is how this woman can keep such a straight face an emote so much at the same time. In a thriller, this can go terribly wrong, but with Pannu, it doesn’t. She makes sure that her straight face emotions are intentional and it doesn’t look like she’s giving away too much.

There also is the wonderful Amrita Singh, who plays Rani Kaur, a woman stuck between all that is right and wrong. Singh gives a terrific, and a very comfortable performance in the little she’s been given to do.

Watch out for the scenes between Bachchan and Pannu. They’re the best one. In just one frame, you see such an outburst of talent, of craft, of love for one’s craft that it seems almost unreal, almost magical. And though, towards the wrap up, the film does lose its grip, you wait for the climax to unfold.

All in all, Sujoy Ghosh’s Badla is definitely worth your time because it may be a classic whodunnit, but with such direction, editing and acting, you’re in for a ride. So, hold on to your seat!

If I had to rate the film, 10 minutes, is all I want with Taapsee Pannu, to sit down and ask her, how does she do what she does. How!

3 Stars

 

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