A whodunit is always a draw, be it a book, film or real-life incident. Arushi Talwar and Sheena Bora are two recent examples of our undying interest in the unsolved. Cases of murder, of brutal theft, of the suspect getting away, keep us riveted, turning the page, gasping for The End. As an audience, we crave edge of the seat suspense, we want to be blown away when everything falls into place. Ah, we want to say, and oh. We didn’t see this coming.
Which is why
Badla got a full house wherever it released. There was Amitabh Bachchan, there was foreign locale and there was a homicide. But did Badla deliver? Could it give us a climax we will never forget?
As a taut thriller, it has its moments, plenty more than average Hindi-film fare. Taapsee Pannu keeps it real even as her secretive eyes aid and abets the plot. We think this, then we think that... there are enough surprises to keep us engaged and in self-doubt. From the moment Amitabh presses her doorbell, the story seldom slackens its hold. Neither does the lawyer played by Bachchan mansplain nor does the businesswoman suspect played by Tapsee lapse into a coy damsel in distress. If he doesn’t pull any punches, she doesn’t flinch away either. The two play the cat and mouse game in satisfying close-ups.
The others talk fast and walk briskly, knowing that it is the lead characters that the camera wants. Amrita Singh as an accident victim’s mother is necessary to the proceedings but the denouement fails to carry her or her spouse in its flow. That particular twist in the end where the cosmetics come off zooms itself back into typical Bollywood territory, where Shah Rukh becomes Hrithik Roshan and dances with Priyanka Chopra in
Don 2 and no one in the ballroom lifts an eyebrow because, you know, one superstar is so much like another.
A word about the prosthetic – ever since Nicole Kidman got an Oscar for
The Hours as Virginia Woolf with a long nose, many actors have wanted a facial feature added or deleted to assist their theatrical flourishes. And in fiction, we must hold our breath, suspend disbelief, we know that. But that responsibility of fiction to resemble facts, to respect our credulousness, has to dovetail with life, what looks like life. Which, in turn, demands last scenes that satiate.
Badla had not overreached itself, if it had not taken a bad form of revenge on us – the cine-goers who came there for their daily buzz, for their shot of adrenaline – by tying loose ends with masks and wigs!
Badla keeps us grateful for going beyond the usual, for giving us non-glam protagonists with feet of clay, it messes with our faith in endings. We wait with bated breath for a worthy finale, but the short-changed feeling interferes at the last minute. Badla does lure us with its promise of fine acting and amoral actions, but then it paints itself into a corner. We walk down the narrow pews, stepping on spilled popcorn, shaking our heads; in dim-lit PVRs we only mourn the price of a ticket.