Sujoy Ghosh‘s Badla is an official adaptation of the 2016 Spanish film Contratiempo (English Title – The Invisible Guest). Written and directed by Oriol Paulo, the original film in itself had a convoluted screenplay, with quite a few screenplay loopholes to arrive at the end, which by the way, could be seen from a distance even in the original writing. Add to it the gimmicky execution of the final ‘twist’, and the experience of The Invisible Guest was rather average. It is unfortunate then that an immensely talented and original screenplay writer like Ghosh draws his inspirations from the tepid material and then decides to adapt it almost verbatim to make Badla, well other than swapping the genders of the protagonists and their immediate surroundings.
Worse, he names his film Badla (an immediate give away) and tells his story through his protagonists – Naina Sethi, a cold-eyed, sharp and ambitious award winning business woman, who has gotten entangled into a relationship outside marriage and more recently into a series of deaths; and Badal Gupta, a highly respected and twisted heavyweight name in the puzzling legal field, who has never lost his game, and is there to work with Naina to seek the ultimate truth. Truth as it happened. Truth beyond the perceptions of guilt or escape. Truth that demands justice.
Remaining within the contours of the original film, and practically recreating the same film scene by scene, Ghosh tries to bring in the Indian context by heavily falling back on Mahabharata and referring to it freely to justify the dharm yuddh at play. To give credit where it is due, most of those dialogs land well, as do some of the other exchanges between Badal and Naina. But Ghosh does not sharpen his writing to mend the overall patchy screenplay or do away with the gimmicky execution of the original. The constraints of the plot setup does not allow Ghosh to move the story to India, may be it could have been an interesting change and should have been a motivation for him to rethink the plot to fit in to the Indian milieu and add some fresh life to it. Also while there is nothing new to talk about the overall talent of Amitabh Bachchan (fifty years is proof enough) and Taapsee Pannu (especially after her dream run with performances last year), I personally found their physicality to be too overpowering to make them convincing for the vulnerable situations they were in to win the illusive psychological battle against each other. The talented artists that they are, both of them make the best possible use of the half baked screenplay and mis-aligned casting situation that they find themselves into though.
Mr. Bachchan especially steals the limelight with his sharp yet restrained act to capture the mind-space of Naina and the audience. He masters the details of his performance with his glances or pauses, warmth or sharpness, and knows that is what defines the outcome of the end-game. It is not easy to stand up to the persona and talent of the legendary actor for nearly two hours head on, and credit goes to Taapsee for not fizzling out under the heat. She portrays the vulnerability of Naina quite well, but somehow underplays the astuteness expected from a profile like hers thereby appearing detached in many places. Rather, Amrita Singh plays the third wheel of the puzzle with much higher resolute, and one would only want to see her more in such interesting characters. The rest of the ensemble remains fairly forgettable.
As becomes the overall film, with Sujoy Ghosh sharing the primary onus for delivering such an average product. In spite of some great work done by Aveek Mukhopadhyay with his camera and Monisha R. Baldawa on the editing table, its the messy screenplay and under-cooked execution that Badla pays a price for. This is certainly not expected from a brilliant kahaani-kar, and no we cannot pass on the blame back to Oriol Paulo to give Ghosh a free hand. After all, its his decision to adapt the film the way he did. Also, we are in full right to practice what he only preached to us – Maaf kar dena har baar sahi nahi hota!
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