In an old episode of The Front Row With Anupama Chopra, Karan Johar admitted that he himself is incapable of delivering an envelope-pushing film for the Students of the Year he fostered – Alia Bhatt, Siddharth Malhotra & Varun Dhawan- to star in. He did express however that he wanted them all to broaden their horizons and work with “dark people”, which might be code for Anurag Kashyap.
True to Karan’s word, all three doe-eyed freshmen who debuted in the candy-coated romantic comedy ventured into murky territory within a year’s time. Alia flirted with Stockholm Syndrome in Imtiaz Ali’s flawed yet deeply haunting Highway, Siddharth Malhotra was an unwilling pawn in yet another godawful Mohit Suri murder story but Varun will be regarded as the former two’s understudy learning what to do and what not to do ultimately coming out on top as the class Valedictorian.
His many detractors who have had a field day criticizing his performances every chance they had will be silenced this time round even though his talent was as clear as day in last year’s well executed ode to Bollywood, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania.
Badlapur is the story of a man who turns to the dark side when his wife and child are killed in cold bold. The premise is generic to a T but the brilliance is in the telling. Badlapur successfully straddles a delicate line between macabre noir and brilliant Coens-ian black comedy.
Varun completely sheds his boy-next-door image and unleashes his inner Ted Bundy on us. His depiction of a happy-go-lucky yuppie’s downward spiral into darkness is indeed unnerving but as good as he is, he is no Nawazzuddin Siddique.
The film belongs to Nawazzuddin, the limelight is all his whether he wants it that way or not. He is a genius thespian in the way he completely disappears into his characters. Here he is a charmless cretin with a penchant for humor and a concealed conscience that slowly reveals itself throughout the course of the film.
Under the keen-eyed direction of Sriram Raghavan, these two male leads flourish but so do the women. Divya Dutta is as luminous as ever playing the role of an empathetic NGO worker while Huma Qureshi will surely tug a few heart strings as the kind-hearted prostitute who is relentlessly fucked over by men.
Certain musical cues are a bit off and the songs, with the exception of the atmospheric Judaai, are pure filler but that’s where the film’s faults end. The script is taut.
Badlapur is a masterful exercise in restraint where subtlety is key and the simple plot line is as deceptive as the film’s characters. Like most excellent films, Badlapur doesn’t concern itself with dualities. There is no good vs. evil, black and white, just hues of grey, albeit very, very dark ones.