Badla Netflix  Review – Acceptance Of Mediocrity
Badla is now streaming on Netflix
If your thriller ends in a person peeling their goddamn face-off, revealing to be a completely different person of a different height, body composition and timber of voice – you really need to think about what the hell you’re writing. The victory of prosthetics over what the human mind is capable of? After two-hours worth of skilled storytelling – I can’t possibly have a film end in some stupid Scooby-Doo tropes.
I have often given sincere thought to whether writing for films has become convenient over the years. Pens writing for Bollywood have wielded quite a lot of power within narratives over characters and sometimes far from logic. This brings me to talk about my most recent watch – Badla directed by Sujoy Ghosh. His earlier films – Kahaani, Kahaani 2 and Ahalya, all of which look the same to the eye.
Badla is the remake of the Spanish film The Invisible Guest. Set in the United Kingdom, the narrative revolves around successful NRI businesswoman Naina Sethi (Tapsee Pannu). Mother and wife, Naina cannot afford to let the truth out. Because if the world knows that she ran an extramarital affair, her life, that which is perfect by definition, will fall apart. Mrs. Sethi has been accused of killing her extramarital partner under suspicious circumstances during one of their getaways. In order to preserve the repute she’s built for herself, Naina is in constant denial, to the world, police and now Badal.
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To defend her, we have Badal Gupta. A lawyer-who-has-never-lost-a-single-case. Feeding the audience achievements of the protagonists does not authenticate the told story any better. The ‘word-of-mouth’ culture seeping into writing has led many filmmakers to do away with fair logic and reasoning. And because the writers had to show Naina as one who’s the master of her choices – The ‘Business Woman Of The Year’ award was hers too. To the antagonists, to the audience, through unnecessary reminders – we are overfed with the idea that Naina Sethi wields power like no one else in the film does.
Naina, who can manipulate the truths and versions of said truths to her welfare, has now invited an-aged Badal Gupta, her lawyer, for 3-hours, into her posh flat, AGAIN-through the word-of-mouth belief system. Jimmy (Manav Kaul), who has always managed to get her out of trouble does the same this time. Well established is the fact that Naina Sethi is no greyer now than she’s ever been. Conveniently enough, Naina – who had been taking the most cautious steps until now just opened her doors wide to a man she barely knew. Not just that, she was also expected to shed every speck of truth she knew to this trusted over-achieving source of Jimmy’s.
It is repeatedly reiterated throughout the first half of the film that Naina had paid for Badal’s services. So whatever might be the truth, Badal was obligated to defend her and get her out of this mess. ‘Main tumhe ghante ke hisaab se paise de rahi hu‘ – the money had always been Naina’s means to white all the blacks. Therefore, this time was no different. This culture of constantly feeding the audience information to the point of redundancy might have been the glaring error of this film.
Through the first forty minutes of Badal trying to interrogate his client, it can be said that Naina has always retconned events from the past. Under the given circumstances i.e. – two crimes committed, both murders, evidence had absolutely no weight between what Naina and Badal shared. Every bit customized, making all occurrences less effective and authentic. Eventually, boiling down to the now-overused post-modern trope of “What is real?”
The portrayal of the two crimes in the first half of the film used extremely interesting thriller-tropes that got us all on the edge of our seats. Beautifully directed moments of fear with Arjun (Tony Luke) inside the Kaur residence. The parents looking for their son’s phone and Arjun fretting and making a move to not be busted. Which brings us to the screenplay chronology – interestingly non-linear and justified.
Directing multiple perspectives is a task but it is one of the pluses for Badla. Multiple perspectives masking most of the predictable moments into those that motivate you to keep logic aside for a while. Playing with pace and order, one of the smarter ways to tackle dead-ends in narratives, especially thrillers and horrors. So much was done, yet not enough to make this film the thorough, detailed masterpiece it (possibly) considers itself to be.
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Amid all the mythological metaphors and trust issues, and the events being revised alternatively by our two protagonists – devalued what was still unknown, lending an impression of convenience. As soon as we become weary of the ease in the narrative, it is not difficult to realize that maybe twisting the story with respect to the sense of ease is not the way to go. A magic trick works best when we can relate the end to the start, something we had seen all along but never paid attention to, the credibility of it all, so to say.
The writers have heavily depended on a single loop full of in-concealable truths. Yet one has to try and churn out another version of it to keep themselves protected, much like the fate of a true criminal. By the very end, before the slow-motion unveiling of everything we already well anticipated – the film had fallen flat in its moment of glory, the moment you had invested in the last two hours for.
A rather obvious directorial choice that Ghosh has often used is more emphasis laid on the results than the process. The end heavier than the rest of the film — the big reveal, in terms of pretty much everything; form, aesthetic and writing. A story that builds with a woman’s motives, always sour, being led on by a said-promising lawyer only to find out she was being fooled all along. Badla is seemingly that film that when on television, I will watch it from start to finish, only to complain about it at the dinner table.
From one of the many lines of the film, the one that should act as a fair lesson for the film-watching audiences – Mediocrity ko ” har baar maaf kar dena sahi nahi hota“.