“Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest. And, like a forest it’s easy to lose your way… to get lost… to forget where you came in.”
– Hattori Hanzō (from Quentin Tarantino’s film Kill Bill Vol 1)
Among Bollywood’s contemporary filmmakers, no one does justice to revenge (as a theme) as Sriram Raghavan does with Badlapur. That’s probably because, apart from cutting out the usual Bollywood glitz and masala, Raghavan quickly gets down to the essence of what a theme like revenge deserves. And, that’s exactly what he serves up in his latest revenge noir Badlapur.
Revenge as a theme, as well as a human response to being hurt or being wronged, is dark. It feeds on the negative side of our emotions. And, only a few filmmakers in India can take chances with Indian audiences with revenge the way Raghavan has in Badlapur – i.e. without the glitz, glamour, song and dance, or the melodrama – to deliver a shock we aren’t accustomed to.
This means Badlapur is a serious film. There’s no Bollywood-style escape into fantasy. And yet, Badlapur has us captivated for over two hours.
The story is simple. A man’s – a young husband-and-father’s – life is unexpectedly shattered when his wife and son are killed in a foiled escape from a bank robbery. Of the two bank robbers, one escapes with the money and disappears, while the other is caught. Raghavan sets this premise right in the beginning of the film, prompting him to add an extension to the title of the film with Don’t Miss The Beginning.
We feel for the man’s loss. We identify with his grief. We even understand why he may wish to become reclusive. But what happens to the man thereafter is what creates discomfort in us as Indian audience. We see a dark transformation in the man as he waits 15 years to take revenge on his wife-and-child’s killers. That’s where Raghavan lays a trap for us.
For, though we understand the man’s need for revenge and wish that he does avenge his wife and child, we somehow don’t want him to go through with it in the cold and calculated manner that he does. We see a lovable grieving man become a predator and a cold-blooded killer; and we are uncomfortable in accepting this. We wonder, would we do this if we experienced something similar in our lives?
The good thing about Badlapur is that Raghavan doesn’t give us an answer in the end. Yes, he does make us wonder about good and evil… about what revenge can be or can mean… but there is no moral preaching. There is no truth served up as an answer. All we get is a glimpse of what revenge can do to us. But then, Badlapur is a dark and serious film that does what it sets out to do.
As the quote from Kill Bill Vol 1 says in the beginning of this post: in our desire for revenge, we can lose our way. With Badlapur, we do.