Next on our countdown of 2015’s best films, which kicked off with Titli, is Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur, starring Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as antagonists. Raghavan breaks break down the moment when the person taking revenge is eclipsed by the target of vengeance.
Raghavan’s tenderness towards hard-boiled material has endured ever since he made his first video feature, Raman Raghav, in 1991. He is among the few Indian directors to have successfully Indianised elements of film noir and detective fiction, finding convincing local equivalents of reckless punters, gangland bosses, flimflam artists, compromised policemen, femme fatales and hard-nosed survivors.
Badlapur is a juicy tale of revenge and unlikely redemption, adapted from Italian writer Massimo Carlotto’s novel Death’s Dark Abyss and co-written by Raghavan, his long-time collaborator and editor Pooja Ladha Surti, and Arijit Biswas. A bank robbery results in the unintended deaths of the hostages, a mother and her son. Liak, the man who is convicted for the crime, insists that he hasn’t pulled the trigger, and blames the deaths on his missing partner. The husband, Raghav, lives a meaningless life for several years until he gets a shot at revenge.
Varun Dhawan plays the wounded husband as best as he can, and Raghavan assembles a fine supporting cast, but Badlapur belongs to Nawazuddin Siddiqui. The moment when Liak renders Raghav’s vendetta meaningless is delicately written and fabulously performed by the actor. The scene involves a conversation between Liak and his mother, played by Pratima Kannan, about stale rice.
The sequence is preceded by a revelatory encounter between Liak and Raghav that turns Raghav’s mission on its head, and a meeting between Liak and his sweetheart, Jhimli (Huma Qureshi). “These three scenes are linked, and one goes into the other,” said Raghavan, who has a reputation for last-minute rewrites in the middle of shoots. “We were also going to include a five to six-minute sequence of Liak and Jhimli going to a resort in Ganpatipule and staying there until Liak’s money runs out.” Fortunately, this dirty weekend was never filmed. “If I had shot it, I would used it out of guilt,” Raghavan said.
Liak decides to set his own terms for his redemption after a short and sharp remark by his mother. However, Raghavan didn’t know exactly what Kannan would say. “Liak has decided what he is going to do at this point in the film, and the conversation is a catalyst,” Raghavan said. But how was it to be expressed without being too obvious? Enter Jaideep Sahni, lyricist and writer and an old friend of Raghavan’s. “Jaideep had watched an early cut, and I called him up for advice,” Raghavan said. “He said over the phone, ‘Purane chawal mein kayko keede dhoond raha hai?’ (What is the point of raking up the past?) Pratima loved the line, and although I wasn’t sure what it meant, we used it.”
For our story on Titli, see here.