Sujoy Ghosh is severely tightlipped about his sixth feature film, Badla. The Red Chillies-Azure Entertainment production is an official remake of the Spanish hit The Invisible Guest (2016), in which a man charged with murder is visited by his lawyer. Several twists and turns follow, the kind Ghosh has mastered in his earlier thrillers, Kahaani (2012) and Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh (2016).
Why remake a film whose bedrock is suspense and which is available on Netflix? “Why not?” Ghosh replied. “If you think of a screenplay as a book, then it is possible for one to adapt it. My job is to tell a story. If it’s good, you’ll like it. If not, you won’t. The Godfather book came before the movie. Does that mean the movie wouldn’t be made?”
Ghosh added that the project was “new and exciting” for him, like “adapting a book and since books have a dedicated fan following, there’s the challenge of not screwing up in the eyes of its admirers”. Starring Amitabh Bachchan as the lawyer and Taapsee Pannu as the accused criminal, Badla will be out on March 8. The cast includes Amrita Singh, Tony Luke, Manav Kaul and Denzil Smith.
Among the key changes between The Invisible Guest and Badla, as the trailer reveals, is that the genders of the murder accused and the lawyer have been flipped. Why? Is Pannu’s character named Naina because the story is seen through her eyes? Is Bachchan named Badal Gupta because Badal is an anagram of Badla, meaning revenge? Ghosh won’t say.
“All answers are in the film” is Ghosh’s reply to most questions about Badla. “If I counter any question, I will end up saying too much,” Ghosh reasoned. He did say that while bringing his personal touch to the original film, which was written and directed by Oriol Paulo, he hasn’t meddled with the story. “If something is already good, why try to fix it?” Ghosh said. “If you cook something too much, it gets burnt. Add a little spice and ingredients, tweak a little if necessary. I have made the characters in the way I see them. Rest, the audience will decide.”
Ghosh is known for dexterously weaving his locations into his plots, be it Mumbai in Jhankaar Beats (2001) or Kolkata and Chandannagar in the Kahaani films. The foreign location of Badla – Glasgow, Scotland – doesn’t take that aspect away from his latest project, Ghosh said.
“I know two places better than Bombay – Kolkata and bilet [colloquial Bengali for the West],” said Ghosh, who completed most of his education in the United Kingdom. “So I know what to find where, where should I shoot to get the perfect frame. Also, I don’t fear any loss of texture. When you write a script, automatically a place comes to mind, and Scotland was it. We see it like we saw Kolkata through [Kahaani protagonist] Vidya Bagchi’s eyes.”
After the comedies Jhankaar Beats and Home Delivery (2005) and the fantasy adventure Aladin (2009), Ghosh switched to thrillers with the smash hit Kahaani, in which Vidya Balan plays a pregnant woman looking for her missing husband in Kolkata. And yet, Ghosh rejects the tag of being a director of thrillers. Citing Rituparno Ghosh’s Utsab (2000) and Shubho Mahurat (2003) as examples of character-driven dramas in which secrets unravel over the course of the narrative, he said. “I’d say my films are, maybe, cut like thrillers. Even Woody Allen’s slice-of-films are thrilling. What’s more thrilling than life?”
The Kahaani films, as well as the horror-themed short Ahalya and the science-fiction short Anukul are not thrillers even though they do have elements of suspense. “I make films based on my need to talk about certain things, like Kahaani 2 emerged from wanting to talk about child abuse,” Ghosh said.
One project, that some of us might call a thriller and on which Ghosh spent a lot of time, was an adaptation of Japanese author Keigo Higashino’s bestseller The Devotion of Suspect X. The novel about a school teacher hoodwinking the police to save a murderer he is in love with inspired the 2013 Malayalam thriller Drishyam, which spawned multiple remakes, including in Hindi in 2015. “I can’t make it now, not because of Drishyam, but there’s a problem with the rights,” Ghosh said about the stalled project. “I have also outgrown the story. The perspective I had and the treatment I imagined for it might not work now.”
After Badla, Ghosh makes his debut on Netflix with Typewriter, a five-episode series that blends comedy with horror. “It’s a story of four kids who hunt ghosts and their dog,” Ghosh said. “It’s more Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay [Bengali writer] than James Wan [The Conjuring and Saw director]. If it’s a hit, then there will be a second season.”