Movie Review: Badlapur (2015)

Badlapur_Poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Badlapur is a jaw-dropping thriller that examines the perils of revenge. After a pair of delightful comic performances in his two previous films, Varun Dhawan shines as a grieving husband who becomes a monster.

Heed the tagline at the end of the Badlapur trailer: “Don’t miss the beginning.” The movie opens with a bank robbery and carjacking. The owner of the car (played by Yami Gautam) and her young son are killed in gruesome — if somewhat accidental — fashion during the escape attempt. One of the robbers (played by Vinay Pathak) flees with the loot, while the other, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), turns himself in to the police.

Badlapur‘s plot follows two parallel stories: Liak’s life behind bars, and the quest for revenge undertaken by Raghu (Dhawan), husband of Misha (Gautam) and father of their son.

The movie is clearly inspired by the Korean film I Saw the Devil — most obviously in a scene in which a man in a car pulls up to a stranded female motorist — which was remade in India last year as Ek Villain. Badlapur is a more fitting successor to the Korean film than the acknowledged remake.

What differentiates Badlapur‘s lead character from the secret service agent at the core of I Saw the Devil is that Raghu has no special skills to aid his revenge quest. He works in advertising before the murders, and takes a job as a factory foreman after Liak is imprisoned.

Because he’s just a regular guy, Raghu’s plans seem a little disorganized. It’s not clear when he will feel his vengeance complete. He intends to wait until Liak’s twenty-year prison sentence is over, then follow Liak when he retrieves his share of the money from Harman (Pathak), his accomplice. Raghu’s timetable is accelerated when a well-meaning-but-naive charity worker, Shoba (Divya Dutta), asks Raghu to petition for Liak’s early release so he can seek medical treatment.

Raghu is content to wait to enact his revenge upon Liak and Harman, but he has far less patience for the women who willingly maintain relationships with the criminals. This goes for Shoba, Harman’s wife, Koko (Radhika Apte), and especially Liak’s girlfriend, Jimli (Huma Qureshi).

Jimli is first to experience Raghu’s rage. Because she is a prostitute, Raghu has no compunction about raping her, thus “ruining” her for Liak. That Raghu feels his money can compensate Jimli for the rape is the sign that he’s gone off the deep end. When Liak asks him what makes the two of them so different, Raghu doesn’t have a good answer.

Every performance in Badlapur is pitch perfect. Dutta and Apte are sympathetic, and Qureshi is superb. Pathak doesn’t get as much screentime as Siddiqui, but he features in the movie’s best scene, in which Harman and Raghu silently size each other up as they ride in an elevator.

Siddiqui is great, but Liak’s character is tricky to embrace. There’s only so much he can do since he spends much of the film in jail, and every scene reinforces that he’s a bad guy. The volume of storytime devoted to Liak has less to do with the character and more to do with a desire to keep Siddiqui on screen for as long as possible.

In only his fourth film, Dhawan extends his acting range in impressive fashion. His portrayal of Raghu is chilling. He’s far scarier than Liak or Harman, but he also has the capacity to act normal when it serves his purpose.

Badlapur has trouble maintaining momentum early on. Raghu’s brutalization of Jimli is followed by flashbacks to his romance with Misha and low-key scenes of Liak’s exploits in jail. Raghu feels a bit absent from the film’s ultimate resolution, but perhaps that fits given that he isn’t a criminal mastermind capable of engineering a dramatic climax.

One thing director Sriram Raghavan excels at is sound design. There isn’t much in the way of background music in Badlapur, and the movie is often punctuated by street noise like barking dogs. The undercurrent of everyday sounds makes the film feel more realistic, heightening its impact.

Not a movie for the faint of heart, Badlapur rewards its audience with great performances and a nuanced take on the revenge genre. If nothing else, it establishes Varun Dhawan as the most exciting young actor in Bollywood today.

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36 thoughts on “Movie Review: Badlapur (2015)

  1. Abdul Qadir

    I’m dying to watch this, unfortunately the screening doesn’t make into my country. They brought in Roy instead, though it seems Roy shoot in my country, the bad reviews doesn’t inspired me at all. I’m very impressed to know Varun Dhavan finally say goodbye to college student character

    Reply
  2. Ravenus

    I disagree with your remark about Siddiqui’s character only occupying screen time. In fact I feel with the depiction of his relationship with Jhimli and his general attitude after he learns about his mortality, he is shown in a much more rounded arc than the Varun Dhawan character, to the extent in the second half my sympathies distinctly shifted towards him, his deeds at the start notwithstanding. Especially in a Bollywood film such a layered portrayal of an antagonist is extremely rare, even on the occasions when normal heroes make a big deal about doing a “negative” role.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      All Liak’s best moments happen when he’s out of jail, so I felt like the amount of time he spent behind bars was wasted. I guess I wanted a little more cat-and-mouse between Liak and Raghu. I totally agree regarding the shift in sympathy near the end, when Raghu fails to see what he’s become, and Liak calls him out on it.

      Reply
  3. Akash Saini

    Its better watching ‘I saw the devil’ than badlapur.
    I dont know why these days shitty movies from bollywood like badlapur, baby are getting high scores on big sites like Imdb, whats the reason behind that ?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I think people are desperate for something different from Bollywood, Akash. While patriotism spurred Baby‘s high IMDb score, Badlapur is shocking for Bollywood. A lot of that has to do with the conservative Indian censor board. Badlapur seems like it’s pushing the envelope in India, even thought it’s a Disney movie compared to I Saw the Devil.

      Reply
      1. Akash Saini

        yeah this could be the reason & Badlapur could be another start but I believe that using the essence of somebody else’s movie to make your own, not only ruins the thought process of your viewers but also destroys the Art of the original movie you copied it from.
        that is the reason why I am not gonna watch Badlapur.

        I think movie ‘Ugly’ is really a different concept coming up from Bollywood but the audience here goes for the fucked up cinema !

        Reply
  4. Anirudh

    Hello Kathy,
    The performances in Badlapur completely blew me away, especially of the female characters where Harman’s wife gets ready to go any length to protect her husband. Even Huma qureshi’s performance for that matter. The director has perfectly shown how women are mentally and emotionally stronger than men.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I agree, Anirudh. The female characters provide a contrast to Raghu, who can only view Liak, Harman, and everyone associated with them in relation to the crime they committed against him. Divya Dutta’s character tries to remind Raghu that there’s a world outside of his pain, but he doesn’t want to hear it.

      Reply
  5. Paul

    Great review Kathy. Went to see it on Sunday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I nearly had to go on my own as my wife was worried it would be too violent judging by the trailer. Luckily she decided to come and she thought it was one of the best films she’s seen in a long time. I though the story arcs and twists were excellent and the story structure is very well rounded.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Glad you and your wife liked it, Paul! Even with greater allowances for gore and violence over the years, Bollywood thrillers are still relatively benign compared to thrillers from Hollywood, South Korea, or Indonesia. Likewise, Bollywood horror flicks are good for people (me!) who find most Hollywood horror movies too intense.

      Reply
      1. Paul

        That’s good to know about the horror films. I’ve been avoiding them as I’m not into out-and-out gore-fests, but I do still love an edge of the seat thrill. I might just make a point of checking some of them out over the coming weeks.

        Reply
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  8. Vivek

    Great review, Kathy. I think films like badlapur and baby are great signs of bollywood’s progress. Badlapur was very different from generic bollywood thrillers. I liked the fact that rather being a whodunnit , the twist was about being the bigger monster of two main characters.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks, Vivek! Most Bollywood heroes are written as morally perfect and flawless, so it’s fun to see a male lead character who is very, very flawed.

      Reply
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  14. Vipul

    Good review

    What I like in movie is that it’s slow paced and not in a rush to finish. While watching I was wondering that what more they will show in last 1 hour since Liak has almost completed his sentence, but the real violent story began after he came out of jail. Great movie of the new Bollywood era.

    Reply
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