Caution: spoilers ahead for those who haven’t watched ‘The Invisible Guest’.
Sujoy Ghosh’s new movie Badla reveals its theme through its title. Starring Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu, the thriller is a remake of the Spanish hit The Invisible Guest, about a murderer who is brought to justice. The March 8 release is a co-production between Azure Entertainment and Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, and has been shot in foreign locations, including Scotland.
The Invisible Guest, written and directed by Oriol Paulo, is being streamed on Netflix (its Spanish title is Contratiempo). In the opening sequence, silver-haired lawyer Virginia (Ana Wagener) meets her client Adrian (Mario Casas), who is accused of murdering his former lover. Adrian’s guilt seems foregone: he was locked in a hotel room with Laura (Barbara Lennie) and nobody entered and nobody was seen exiting. Adrian claims that he was knocked unconscious by an unidentified stranger hiding in the room, and when he came to, Laura was already dead.
An important witness who claims to have clinching evidence of Adrian’s culpability has turned up, Virginia warns Adrian. She sets a stopwatch on the table and urges him to go over the facts of the case.
In the tradition of films as varied as Rashomon and The Usual Suspects, subjective flashbacks revealed by unreliable narrators are lobbed at viewers to keep them from guessing the truth. Adrian has been having an extra-marital affair with Laura, who is also married. They have decided to break off their relationship after a clandestine date, but Adrian ends up accidentally killing a motorist.
Fearful of the scandal that will expose Laura’s affair and derail Adrian’s ascent in his world (he is on the verge of an important business deal), the couple try to cover their tracks. The web of lies isn’t as dexterously spun as it should have been, of course. Adrian uses his influence to get the police off his trail, but a blackmailer shows up. This is how Adrian and Laura find themselves in the hotel room, where, instead of a blackmailer, Laura meets her murderer.
Slickly shot and produced, and competently performed, The Invisible Guest coasts along entirely on the principle of suspension of disbelief. The thriller takes some bold decisions at the risk of undermining its climax. Chief among these is the use of close-ups. For those who are watching very carefully, the big reveal in The Invisible Guest might not work as one. If Amitabh Bachchan is playing the part we think he is, the suspense is going to be even more difficult to sustain.
Director Oriol Paulo keeps the twists coming over a crisp 106 minutes and throws in a few false turns for good measure. The film’s theme of revenge makes it perfect for Bollywood, and its characters are well-etched within the genre’s requirements (the smug and self-serving Adrian is the most compelling of the lot). Its best twist is reserved for a character who isn’t watching as closely as needed. In the interests of going along with the movie’s conceit, it is imperative that viewers don’t either.