Badlapur & Theevram

As I was watching Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur I was struck by a number of similarities to Theevram, a Malayalam film I’d watched just a few weeks before, so it seemed appropriate to write about them together. Both are films based on a story of revenge where the hero is forced into action by his perceived lack of justice, and both star an up-and-coming young actor surrounded by an experienced and proficient support cast. While Badlapur focuses on the obsession of revenge and the destructive consequence to Raghu (Varun Dhawan), Theevram is a more straight forward drama with Harsha (Dulquher Salmaan) playing a game of cat and mouse with Police Inspector Alexander (Sreenivasan) as he exacts his revenge. Both are good films in their own right but while I prefer Badlapur’s more ambiguous storyline, Dulquher Salmaan just pips Varun Dhawan in his portrayal of a man driven to the absolute extreme for revenge.

The story of Theevram is told in a non-linear fashion, and is actually based on a couple of real life murder cases. Sreenivasan plays a respected police officer who has an unfortunate dislike of autopsy although there is nothing lacking in his detective skills. He’s paired with a younger officer, the more impetuous Ramachandran (Vinay Forrt) and the two make a good team. The film begins with Harsha’s revenge and it’s not until later that we discover why he has been driven to this extreme. At the start we don’t know if he is a good guy or a serial killer, as without any explanation he systematically tortures and kills a man in his plastic coated cellar. His actions seem to be at odds with his day-to-day life as a piano teacher, however once Inspector Alexander comes to call it becomes clear Harsha was the victim of a crime. Most of the film is shot with dull and muted colours, but once a flashback sequence starts, explaining what has happened to Harsha to turn him into this cold and methodical man, suddenly the colours are full and rich. A rather obvious metaphor but one which is very effective.

Harsha’s wife Maya (Shikha Nair) was murdered by a company driver Raghavan (Anu Mohan) for her complaints about his speeding with her in the car. Her murder is pre-meditated and brutal, with Raghavan severing her head from the body to attempt to delay identification. He’s quickly arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for his crime while Harsha struggles to cope with life without Maya. However, just as Harsha is starting to get on with his life, the circumstances of Raghavan’s family life allow the murderer to obtain an early release from jail. Very early. In fact he only spends 4 years behind bars before being allowed his freedom. Harsha and his friends Dr Roy (Vishnu Raghav) and Nimmy (Riya Saira) decide that Raghavan must die for his crime and set about planning the perfect murder.

Theevram rather controversially takes the view that murder for revenge is perfectly justified if the legal system has failed to properly punish the offender for his crime. Writer and director Roopesh Peethambaran delivers a story of vigilantism where the cold-blooded murder of a criminal is depicted as a good solution, and even acknowledged as such by the police. I can’t say that I agree with this view or with portraying Harsha as a hero for what he does, but the story is gripping and the plot cleverly developed. The contentious treatment of Raghavan is perhaps a way to start a discussion about such issues, and it’s interesting that he isn’t a completely black character. Raghavan does appear to try to look after his disabled wife and seems to be trying to turn over a new leaf after his release from jail. However his behaviour towards Nimmy suggests that the change may only be surface deep and he still has a poor attitude towards women.

Badlapur is a darker film where the lines between right and wrong are blurred and revenge is shown to be a weight dragging Raghu down. The first few minutes are brilliantly filmed, with a shot of a street, with people going their everyday business and the only sounds heard the traffic going past and snatches of conversations as vegetables are bought and gossip exchanged. However in the background there is a robbery, and as the two criminals leave the bank they force their way into a car parked outside where Misha (Yami Gautam) is just loading in her young son and her groceries. During the subsequent chase Robin falls out of the car, while Misha is shot and killed. While one of the robbers manages to escape, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is left to face the music. After his wife’s murder, Raghu becomes a haunted and driven man, obsessed with finding Liak’s partner whom he believes fired the fatal bullet. However in reality the opposite is true. Liak was the man who, in the heat of the moment shot and killed Misha, although he never confesses, insisting that he was just the driver.

15 years later when Liak is diagnosed with terminal cancer Raghu is persuaded to plead for Liak’s early release in the hope that he will run to his old partner in crime. Raghu’s bereavement turns him into a cold, hard man who rapes and abuses Liak’s girlfriend Jhimli (Huma Qureshi) as part of his revenge. He’s so obsessed with the idea of finding the man behind his wife’s death that he lives a miserable life, alone and in fairly dismal circumstances. The tragedy has become what has defined the man and it seems as if only his plans for revenge keep him going.

Here, revenge is shown as something that corrupts. Raghu becomes more despicable than his enemy, killing Liak’s partner Harman (Vinay Pathak) and wife Kanchan (Radhika Apte) in cold blood. Liak himself is shown as a rather grey character, who seems to have more of a life than Raghu, despite spending most of it behind bars.

Dulquher Salmaan and Varun Dhawan both do an excellent job as young men devastated by their loss. The problem I have with Varun’s character is that it takes 15 years before he manages to achieve his revenge, and it seems unlikely that he could have maintained his rage so long. Varun tries hard but doesn’t quite manage to pull off playing a man in his forties although he does convey his preoccupation with finding Liak’s partner and his disconnection from normal life very well. Dulquher has an easier time of it, as his character only has to wait 4 years to exact revenge, and his protagonist is easier to dislike. Dulquher is also a man who has managed to move on with his life and although his world is duller without Maya, he would have been content to let Raghavan rot in jail if he’d just stayed there. His revenge is coldly plotted with great attention to detail but there seems to be little rage left – in fact little emotion at all.

Both films are made even better by their excellent support cast. Badlapur would have been less substantial and the revenge less ambiguous without the excellent Nawazuddin Siddiqui and his nuanced performance as the main antagonist. Sreenivasan doesn’t have such a consequential role, but his support and that of Vinay Forrt rounds out the story and ensures a satisfying plot. The films are brutal, both in the violence they depict and in the exposure of such deep despair but there are lighter hearted moments in both and it’s not all doom and gloom. There is just enough light to allow the shade space to deepen and both directors have paced their films well. The strength of both Badlapur and Theevram is in the portrayal of emotions and it’s heartening to see two young actors bring so much depth to their roles. I enjoyed both these films and recommend them for a combination of fine performances, strongly written characters and good storytelling. 4 for both.

 

 

Advertisements

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi requires some determined suspension of disbelief. A prematurely middle aged man marries a bright, lovely young girl immediately after she experiences a family tragedy. He loves her on sight, she doesn’t see him at all. He changes himself to become a man she could love. But he does it in an extreme way. He masquerades as another man, utterly different from his everyday self, and starts to woo her. What happens if she recognises him? What if she prefers the ‘other man’? How can he get himself out of this situation? And who will win the big dance competition?

I’m not telling.

I really like this film. It has excellent acting by Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, and characters I could empathise with or understand, even when I didn’t agree. I know some people object to the premise that she doesn’t recognise her husband immediately. Personally, I think that if you suspect every man who looks vaguely like your husband or boyfriend is him in disguise, you probably have bigger issues than the film does. Aditya Chopra hits some false notes including a ridiculous sumo wrestling interlude, but it’s really a story about people not gimmicks so I can turn a blind eye. There is ample entertainment in the romance, humour (please note I am not using the C word), dancing and music.

Surinder Sahni works at Punjab Power (motto: Lighting Up Your Life) and lives all alone in his family home, a huge ornate house. He is an unassuming man who has fallen into a rut. Until he falls for Taani. Seeing her disappointment on top of her grief he wants to do something to make her happy, or at least stop her from giving up on happiness. Surinder is considerate as well as shy and doesn’t presume on his new wife. He sleeps in the attic room and calls her Taani-ji, so painfully polite. Suri doesn’t do macho or overbearing – he is atypical for a romantic lead. In his own beige way he tries to show his feelings, hoping his actions will speak for him. He sees her laugh watching movies and tries to understand the appeal of filmi heroes but he is worlds away from that flashy style. This is one of my favourite Shah Rukh performances. He plays Suri as mostly subdued, with a shy romantic streak blooming as he dares to dream.

The expression on his face when he sees the tiffin Taani has prepared for him is priceless. Shah Rukh strikes the right blend of physical comedy and heartstring tugging pathos as Suri.

 

 

Suri’s flamboyant hairdresser friend Bobby (Vinay Pathak in excellent form) helps with a makeover. The idea is Suri will go watch Taani at her new dance class, and then surprise her with the new look. But he can’t stop himself from trying to get closer to her. And so Raj is born; vulgar, extrovert, inappropriate Raj Kapoor who can say and do things that Suri won’t.

Shah Rukh doesn’t play Raj as cool – he is a nerd’s idea of a cool dude and always that bit off key. I’m not surprised Taani didn’t recognise him. He has terrible fashion sense and constantly over-accessorises (thanks to Aki Narula). There are some delightful moments of Raj getting cocky, only to have Suri’s panic leak through when he doesn’t know what to do next. Raj becomes Taani’s dance partner for a competition – another touch of fate or divine intervention. The relationship has a rocky start but Taani can’t help eventually responding to Raj’s simple warmth.

He helps her reconnect with life in a way that Suri’s patient hands-off approach doesn’t. Shah Rukh portrays two quite distinct characters, and I could see Raj growing and becoming more of a second skin over time.

Raj is a drug that Suri cannot kick. When Bobby challenges him, Suri admits he can’t stop. The deception escalates and as Raj he taunts himself over his failure. This dark tone of self awareness and self delusion made Suri’s deception seem more real.

He created a mask and resented being trapped behind it. As Suri he wants Taani to see the real Suri, and fall in love with him as he is. As Raj, he is spontaneous and affectionate. But what happens to Suri if Raj succeeds in winning Taani’s love? And if Suri kills off Raj, what will that mean to Taani?

Taani is the apple of her father’s eye, and about to marry the man she loves. A few tragic minutes later she is married to Suri and relocated to Amritsar. At that time she may not have cared much for her future as she was traumatised and grieving. Anushka has a natural and happy quality, but she can turn that off in an instant, and she portrayed the conflicting emotions and loyalties very well.  Taani rarely looks at her husband, and certainly doesn’t see him so I could believe she didn’t recognise him in disguise. The more Suri tries to engage her, the more she blocks him out. She’s not a crying whinging wet dishrag though – Taani is a spirited woman and even does a Dhoom style motorbike stunt. She really comes to life when she forgets herself in things that had been her pleasures in her old life, especially dancing.

She resents feeling indebted to Suri even as she appreciates his generosity, but is making the best of things. Taani doesn’t have friends in Amritsar apart from Raj, who refuses to not be allowed to be her friend, so he is her only confidant. She comes to a crisis point, and I think it was as much about wanting to actively live again as her attraction to Raj.

Taani finally allows herself to love and to reconnect with life. While Anushka is very pretty she seems real, not a plastic beauty, and I found her convincing and appealing. I also had severe wardrobe envy when I saw Taani’s clothes, especially her lovely embroidered dupattas.

The theme of a couple brought together by God is always present. The presence of religious observance and ritual in their lives helps give that more resonance as it seems like a genuine belief not just a dramatic conceit. The gold of the temple at Amritsar is picked out in  Taani’s dress, the yellow tiffin, Suri’s car, the new bedsheets and flowers Taani leaves in his room. For him, Taani is divine love and she is lighting up his life.  The corny picturisation of Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai can’t detract from the message of seeing an aspect of divinity in the one you love, or who loves you.

I really like that it shows Suri seeing himself as Suri, but Taani sees only Raj. The tension in the bizarre love triangle is well maintained even in lighter moments. I think that the inherent acknowledgement that some characters were not always behaving well made it more palatable and less WTF, so the resolution is oddly satisfying. My eye-rolling muscles barely got warmed up, I just went with it and enjoyed the unravelling.

Whether it is the bustle of Amritsar, Suri’s majestic old house, Taani’s clothes, the framing or the use of colour, Ravi K Chandran makes it look stunning and it’s a total pleasure to watch. This traditional sounding song is over the opening titles but not on the soundtrack, and it is a beautiful start to the film.

The Salim-Sulaiman soundtrack is mostly excellent and Jaideep Sahni’s lyrics seem to match the story very well. Haule Haule is beautiful, and the choreography is perfect uncle-in-love style. Retro tributes are now old hat, but the clever lyrics made up of film songs and titles and the vocal by Sonu Nigam lift Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte. Shah Rukh really gets the style of the Hindi film greats he mimics, particularly in the Rishi Kapoor segment. Lara Dutta is miscast as Helen, but Rani as Neetu more than makes up for that. I much prefer the songs Vaibhavi Merchant choreographed. Shiamak’s style is too reminiscent of 80s TV variety shows and I’ve seen enough of that to last me. Dance Pe Chance and the dance competition numbers are not memorable, although I appreciated Anushka and Shah Rukh maintaining their characters in the dances so they worked as drama rather than as songs. But so much colour and movement can’t be a bad thing.

See this for an unusual romance, good songs, beautiful visual design and of course the lovely performances by Shah Rukh and Anushka. Just remember to suspend that disbelief! 4 stars!

Heather says: I am quite ambivalent about this film. On one hand I do really like Shahrukh’s ebullient Raj and most of the time I like his characterisation of the more reserved and introverted Suri. But on the other hand there is much of the story that I don’t like, and I’m not very impressed with the character of Taani despite Anushka Sharma’s best efforts.  Taani seems a very superficial character and the few personality traits she is allowed to display switch on and off depending on how much comedy Aditya Chopra wants to include in the scene. When she is allowed to be cheery and feisty I quite like her, but most of the time she is too one dimensional and is only there as a reason for Shahrukh to play dress-up.

As far as the story goes, I don’t like the way that Taani is pressured into marriage with Suri at such a difficult time in her life. However even worse is the direction the story moves in later on, when Suri decides to make his wife choose between Raj and himself. It’s manipulative, very unfair and just plain wrong. I don’t see how such a plan can possibly demonstrate true love and I think Taani would be much better to leave Suri and Raj altogether!

What I do like though is the character of Bobby Khosla and I think that Vinay Pathak did a great job with his role as Suri’s friend. There are a few scenes near the beginning where the character of Suri is initially developed that are also quite sweet and hold a lot of promise but unfortunately I don’t think the film ever delivers on these. While both Shahrukh and Anushka bring everything they can to their roles, ultimately it’s the story that lets it all down in the end. The songs are great and I love Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte, but for the rest, it’s not a film I particularly enjoy. I think it’s worth watching for Shahrukh, who does have some excellent comedy moments and he at least seems to be enjoying himself. The rest is disappointing. 3 stars.