Oriol Paolo’s Spanish crime thriller, The Invisible Guest, has been officially remade as Badla by Sujoy Ghosh in Hindi, starring Taapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bachchan in the main roles. Naina is a successful business woman who finds herself in a locked hotel room, bruised from a smash to the mirror, with a dead body of her lover lying in the adjacent room. She is arrested by the police for the murder of her lover and in comes Badal Gupta, an advocate who reconsiders his retirement to fight one last case and add another win to his immaculate record.
Badal Gupta compels Naina to tell the truth about everything that happened with her and her dead lover, Arjun. Through Naina’s eyes, we then see the flashback unfold, revealing an interesting subplot. Badla’s strength lies in its masterfully constructed first act involving an accident. The audience is not aware of this incident, going into the film and this passage of the story gets so intriguing beyond a point, you forget that there is an impending murder waiting to happen in the flashback. Kudos to the original screenplay by Paolo but Sujoy Ghosh attains complete control over your attention as he plays with the macbre of the locales of a gloomy, dense Eltimore. The intrigue is built beat by beat, infusing major problems for the characters. The screenplay has bouts of horror movie-like moments which accentuate the tension of the proceedings. Clinton Cerejo’s score adds flavour to the thrills and chills. He once again proves that he is one of the most under-utilized musicians.
Tony Luke who plays Arjun does a good job but has a weird South Indian accent and an unconvincing British accent when he speaks English. This jarring accent makes it hard to take his, otherwise good performance, seriously. Taapsee Pannu is her usual self, doing justice to her role with the limited scope she has as an actor. Her choice of films has more conviction than her performances in them. Emotional scenes are still a strain for her and at times the strain is evident on her face. Amitabh Bachchan is cast as a lawyer once again, although dissimilar to the lawyer in Pink, his characters or performance do not surprise the audience anymore. He gives in a good performance which is expected of him, going into the film. The cheekiness that he tries to bringin at times, seems oddly written into the script. The consistent acting performances help in holding your attention even when things get murky, but Amrita Singh’s performance deserves to be singled out. Her face itself is a source of uncanny fear. Sujoy Ghosh knows exactly how to use her physicality to create a peculiar discomfort for the audience. Her performance in the film is the embodiment of the film’s noxious visual flavour.
Sujoy Ghosh does not refrain from using the Hindi film cliches of a suspense thriller, as Badal Gupta continues to speak in riddles or Mahabharata references. Repeated references to Mahabharata do not quiet add to the character or the story in anyway and feel out of place in a story set in England, between a Business woman and a successful advocate. Sujoy Ghosh niftily handles the film’s numerous twists and turns never letting the multiple strands, convolute the narrative. In a screenplay that mostly stays true to the original one, Sujoy Ghosh has no heavy lifting to do but a masterstroke he deserves credit for, is the gender reversal of the main accused from a Man in the Original to a woman in Badla. A young successful business woman and a wise old lawyer makes for an interesting character dynamic.
The last act of the film is like a pendulum movement from one version of the truth to another. You cease to trust the narrator, tricks are played and truths are exposed. Two prominent emotions in the first half, Guilt and Loss are substituted by treachery and double-crossing. All these exciting moments happen and Taapsee does not quite nail each of these moments. But the grip of the filmmaker on his material never allows you to disconnect from the confusing, yet intriguing part despite a shakey performance by Taapsee. The dynamic shift in the narrators and the trueness of their respective narratives keeps you interested, even though the final twist is pretty apparent already. The final act is neatly done, satiating the need for a decent suspense thriller, but it does not have the same shockvalue as Kahaani. Thanks to the lack of punch in the climax, one cannot help but question certain plot points and character traits, as you leave the hall.
Sujoy Ghosh makes another good thriller. He once again, creates a morbid world filled with secrets. An astonishing thing about the film is how perfectly it is paced. In the 120 minutes runtime, there is a not single minute that is wasted. With good acting, dynamic screenplay and a dense plot, Badla is a faithful remake of its original that holds its ground despite a fairly predictable ending.