Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Badlapur is a really good movie. The acting is top-notch – so good that you’ll find it impossible to leave the theatre without wanting to marry the entire cast. It’s well written, well shot, and the revenge at the heart of the story is well-crafted.
Here’s Badlapur’s premise: Raghav (Varun Dhawan) is a young man in a happy marriage when by a terrible stroke of fate, his wife Misha (Yami Gautam) and tiny son are taken hostage by criminals Laiq (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Harman (Vinay Pathak) during a heist and killed in a meaningless act of violence while the two men are trying to make a getaway. Laiq is apprehended and thrown in jail while Harman escapes with the loot – their arrangement is that Harman will hold on to Laiq’s share until his jail term is served. Meanwhile, Raghav’s life has been shattered. Fifteen years on, tragically bearded and still wearing his wedding ring, he gets the chance to meet Laiq again and exact his revenge.
But there’s something about a movie driven entirely by a man’s grief and desire to avenge harm done to the woman he loves that can get a little…boring. And amidst the superb performances by Dhawan, Siddiqui and a host of other actors in smaller roles, including Vinay Pathak, Huma Qureshi, Divya Dutta and Radhika Apte, there’s one glaring aspect of the movie that’s hard to ignore: that the men have centrestage. The women actors bring as much meat to the roles as they can, but the ultimate purpose of their characters is to be beaten, raped, murdered or manipulated.
Raghav takes Misha’s murder personally – her death gives him the opportunity to transform from adorable husband into a perpetually puffy-eyed force of revenge that destroys everything in his path, wreaking his very manly vengeance against Harman and Laiq. To Raghav, an appropriate form of revenge is to rape Jhimli (Qureshi), Laiq’s sex worker girlfriend, and have Harman believe that Raghav is having sex with his wife Kanchan (Apte) – and that even though she’d been blackmailed into it, Kanchan enjoys it. (See how it’s engineered so that the sex worker is handed rape, but the middle-class housewife gets pretend-sex?) And so that Harman can experience what it was like for Raghav to have been by Misha’s side as she died a painful death, Raghav bashes Kanchan in the head with a hammer, and lets Harman in to see her just as she’s dying, before he kills him too. Raghav also has sex with Shobha (Dutta), an NGO activist who wants him to pardon Laiq, so that he has an alibi for the murders.
All in all, it isn’t really about Raghav’s dead wife and son. It’s about him. And his impending fight-till-death (with a great twist) with Laiq. All their murders do is leave Raghav very messed up, and provide him with an excuse for being a rapist and murderer.
In Badlapur, the women have short, well-written roles, but are largely collateral in the epic battle among the men. There’s only one line in which a woman character speaks to another, and that’s when Joshi, the private detective who turns out to be a woman in a very cool move on the part of the writers, talks to Laiq’s mother while in disguise, to learn more about him. But the film still fails the Bechdel test.
In a bizarre coda at the end of the film, completely out of sync with everything else that has just transpired, a song plays with Dhawan and others dancing as the credits roll. After a smooth, controlled film that strikes very few false notes, it’s hard not to giggle as Raghav relives his grief (otherwise brilliantly managed in the film) through some tortured lip-syncing and angsty dance moves.
It still doesn’t explain why the women, largely bystanders in the film, should be on the receiving end of so much violence. If only Raghav had stuck to popping and locking to express his anguish.