Director: Sujoy Ghosh
“Pay attention to the details. The answer is in the details,” Amitabh Bachchan says over and over again to Taapsee Pannu in Badla, a lawyer imploring his client to look closer and harder at what’s in front of them in order to spot the clue that could prove her innocence. Frankly, it’s good advice for viewers too who’re seeking to solve the suspense in this twisty thriller. Just look really close; it’s right there.
Directed by Kahaani’s Sujoy Ghosh, who evidently knows his way around stories that are hiding more than what’s on the surface, Badla is an official remake of the gripping Spanish whodunit The Invisible Guest. Wisely, Ghosh stays mostly faithful to the blueprint of the original film aside from swapping the genders of the principal characters.
Taapsee plays Naina Sethi, a married woman accused of murdering her lover in what seems like an open-and-shut case for the prosecution. Bachchan is Badal Gupta, a top lawyer hired to make sure there are no chinks in her defence. As he interrogates her in pursuit of the truth, we learn more and more about what might have actually happened the night her lover’s body was discovered in a hotel room that she was herself present in, and which shows no signs of anyone else having entered or exited.
Fashioned as a sort of verbal duel between client and lawyer, the film sees Naina making revelations and Badal challenging her claims. The narrative moves back and forth in time as the layers are peeled one by one. Naina insists she’s innocent, but is Naina telling the truth?
The film’s zig-zag plotting is its biggest strength although it’s not especially hard to figure out the ending. Yet Ghosh keeps the suspense at boiling point and the viewer invested in the outcome. You could put it down to the film’s crisp pace, or to the cast who work hard to pull off their roles convincingly.
Taapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bachchan do the bulk of heavy lifting, and they’re in good form as strangers who’re not sure if they can trust each other. Tony Luke, his accent notwithstanding, brings unpredictability to the proceedings as Naina’s murdered lover Arjun; and Manav Kaul is always a welcome presence, even in a small cameo as Naina’s legal counsel. But it’s Amrita Singh who leaves a lasting impression in a crucial role, her every expression conveying bottled up emotion and feeling. How wonderful to see her utilized beyond the typical roles Bollywood reserves for middle-aged actresses.
Badla is handsomely mounted, unfolding for the most part in atmospheric, gloomy, wintertime Glasgow. The film doesn’t pack the wallop that Kahaani delivered, but it’s a respectable enough thriller that seldom loses grip of its pace or your attention.
I’m going with three out of five.
Rating: 3 / 5