Badla is a difficult to describe in a review without giving too much away. The only advice to fully enjoy this well-crafted and sophisticated crime drama is to actually watch it and concentrate and the payoff is well worth it. It is that slow burner that at a first glance is a slow and almost boring film - but that after a while expands into this cleverly written thriller that takes unexpected turns. It's a story of much complexity with lots of dialogues. This, in combination with the big lack of character depth might seem like a big flaw, but the third act explains a lot of this and it does weigh more than the film's cons. As for the twist, it’s a good twist, and not one that just comes out of the blue.
What keeps Badla going are the many turns of the screw. Nothing is what it seems. And the battle of truth between lawyer and client keeps you gripped. It’s also a pleasure to see Amrita Singh, who is back on screen after two years. She really should work more often. Amrita, with a steely determination in her eyes, brings an emotional heft to the film. Her character gives the plot a poignancy. Clinton Cerejo’s background score adds to the suspense and at least in a few places, you will hold your breath. Because Sujoy knows how to craft tension. Characters and locations drive his films with secrets being revealed along the way. Remember how Kolkata loomed large in Kahaani and Mumbai in Jhankaar Beats? Here Glasgow becomes more than a backdrop – Sujoy and DOP Avik Mukhopadhyay present a beautiful but brooding and ominous space that feels cold, both literally and figuratively. Eventually however, the narrative flattens out. It becomes too evident where the various strands are leading. And the big reveal of what actually happened feels implausible even though the script offers some explanation for it. Badla remains watchable until the end but it doesn’t become essential viewing.
Which is why Badla is the kind of suspenseful thriller that uses suspense as more of a ruse than a device. It thrives on creating an illusion that the narrative is constantly one step ahead of the audience when it actually isn’t. Even the characters, especially Badal, are convinced they are intellectual multiplex goers; Ghosh’s revelation is that they were single-screen potboilers all along. This, too, is an art – the art of making something feel smarter than it is. To make anti-climactic mountains out of molehills; heaven knows this is the very definition of storytelling.
Thriller is a genre that many Bollywood filmmakers ace, and Sujoy Ghosh is one of them. Coming from a director who gave Bollywood Kahaani (2014), Badla is high on drama, twists and turns. The two-hour revenge drama keeps you on the edge of the seat with every revelation knocking you off your feet. An official remake of Spanish thriller An Invisible Guest, Badla stays largely faithful to the original with only a minor change - swapping the gender of the main characters.
Badla remains an engaging film, and while we can blame Ghosh for casting Bachchan and somewhat spoiling the climax, he can’t possibly be blamed for casting that man in a role that requires a lot of talking. Amitabh Bachchan has been in the movies for fifty years now, and whatever he says, we’re listening.
Badla is a crime thriller that lifts itself out of the limitations of the form by spotlighting questions of guilt and retribution without diluting its edgy quality. The film's multiple twists and turns will work best if you haven't seen Contratiempo. But even if you have, the quality of the acting and the technical finesse on show - Avik Mukhopadhyay's unobtrusive yet effective camerawork is especially noteworthy - make Badla an unmissable film.