“Badla”… A tepid mystery that’s watchable, but with a huge casting problem

Posted on March 10, 2019

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Spoilers ahead…

In Sujoy Ghosh’s Badla, Amitabh Bachchan (solid as always) stars as one of those high-profile lawyers who has never lost a case. His latest assignment, in this official adaptation of the 2017 Spanish movie Contratiempo, involves Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu), a married woman who admits to adultery but says she’s innocent of murdering the man she was having the affair with. Someone’s trying to frame her — but who? After all, there is no evidence that there was anyone else in the hotel room where the body was found. The stage is set for a twisty mystery, where clues range from one of those cigarette lighters that bursts into a tune to the Bachchan character’s very name: Badal, which simply juxtaposes the last two letters of the title.

But despite an overall watchable quality, especially towards the end, Badla is a tepid affair. I haven’t seen Contratiempo, but I’m assuming the enormous number of what-are-the-odds coincidences were handled with more conviction. Here, the characters are all stick figures, and the stakes are low — I never got around to investing enough in Naina to care about what happened to her. The dialogues are painfully strained, whether it’s the “colourful” banter between Rani (Amrita Singh) and her husband — they’re key players in the story is all I’ll say — or Badal’s incessant Mahabharata references. Which brings me to the major reason this film doesn’t work as much as it should (huge spoilers ahead, till the end). The scripture-quoting instantly establishes Badal as a man on the side of dharma (in contrast, Naina remembers but the basic “story outline”). But even more damaging to the suspension-of-disbelief factor is the casting. Badal needed to be played by someone far less distinctive. Badla wants us to believe that it’s not too hard to mimic one of the most iconic of faces and voices of our cinema. Close, but no cigar.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi