After an indifferent and inconsistent run, Sujoy Ghosh scored a hit with Kahaani in 2012. The thriller borrowed ideas from the Hollywood movies The Usual Suspects and Taking Lives, and relied on faked flashbacks that made it difficult for audiences to guess the truth behind the mystery. Many lies were spun in Kahaani, both verbally by its characters and visually by its filmmaker.
Badla, then, is apt material for Ghosh, relying as it does on unreliable narrators and many versions of the truth. The movie is an official remake of the Spanish whodunit The Invisible Guest, with some tweaks by Ghosh and dialogue by him and Raj Vasant.
Badla wisely sticks closely to The Invisible Guest, which is currently being streamed on Netflix. The Spanish film was written and directed by Oriol Paulo, and Ghosh ensures that the adaptation retains the gasp factor by keeping any changes to the bare minimum.
Ghosh’s major contribution is to swap the genders of the main characters. It is a woman, now, who is accused of murdering her lover, and a male lawyer who rehearses the case with her to ensure that her defence is watertight.
Taapsee Pannu is Naina, a married businesswoman who gets involved in an accident along with her lover, Arjun (Tony Luke). The accident has links with Arjun’s murder, which are gradually revealed over the conversations between Naina and her lawyer, Badal (Amitabh Bachchan). The narrative moves back and forth in time over the course of 120 minutes, with Naina presenting proof of her innocence and Badal teasing out other possibilities to test her defence.
For some reason, Badla plays out entirely in Glasgow, which, like every foreign location featured in a Hindi movie, has many Indians running about (Denzil Smith plays a police officer; Manav Kaul is Naina’s fixer). In a facile attempt to Indianise the story, Sujoy Ghosh weaves in mythic references to the Mahabharata epic.
The casting, however, proves to be a bigger problem. The Spanish film works perfectly for Indian viewers who are unfamiliar with the actors and therefore have no expectations from them in terms of their innocence or guilt. The presence of unknowns in The Invisible Guest ensures that the focus is firmly on its twist-laden script.
Badla has hugely familiar leads, and the casting of at least one of them allows Ghosh to deliver a weak and unconvincing coup de grace. Taapsee Pannu is unable to summon up the blank canvas onto which all manner of possibilities can be projected, while Amitabh Bachchan hops on the gravitas train for the nth time. The gender swap allows for a meaty role for Amrita Singh, who deftly plays a key character, and her presence, along with that of Tony Luke, work strongly in the movie’s favour and helps it along its pretzel-shaped journey.