Batla House Movie Review: Makes strong case (one-sided or not)
This is already saying a lot. Last time that happened? Maybe Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday? Woah, now that's a seriously tall compliment.
U/A: Drama, historical
Director: Nikkhil Advani
Cast: John Abraham, Mrunal Thakur
No seriously, is this part of an ongoing Bollywood season for issuing 'clean chit' at the movies, for famous figures? Whose own versions of truth on screen, over a contentious real-life incident or event — despite previously held assertions/evidences to the contrary — exonerate them from a misdemeanour or crime they're alleged to have committed? That hero could be a cinema superstar, or indeed India's top politician. And that in this case, it's the Delhi Police? Well.
To be fair, while news-media is fairly central to this film's plot, and there's the usual tapli or two, the press is hardly portrayed as singularly responsible for spinning a completely false narrative. One has come to expect it from a movie such as this. Politicians seem more like the villain here. Rings true.
To be fairer still, while we aren't quite looking at the same incident through multiple lenses, like the proverbial Rashomon (1950), if you may, there is at least an attempt to show the other side of the story. Even though the film takes an altogether opposite line of thought to prove otherwise.
What's the event/incident we're looking at here? Batla House, obviously. Rather the police encounter set in a ramshackle building in the Batla House area of the congested Jamia Nagar in New Delhi, in September, 2008. A couple of alleged terrorists of the local outfit Indian Mujahideen (IM) were gunned down in this morning-fire, and a couple of others injured.
The charge was that this was a 'fake encounter', with innocents brought indoors, just so Delhi Police could save face, given a bomb attack by the IM just a week before in the Capital, and a series of them across India, over the past couple of years. Were there really harmless college-kids in that kholi that day?
Don't know enough to take a stand. But here's what makes that case rather weak too: The fact that a much-decorated police inspector leading the special cell team into Batla House lost his own life in the encounter as well. Certainly doesn't sound like the handiwork of a bunch of ludo players.
Actor Ravi Kishen, with his inimitable swag, plays that slain cop, named KK Verma in the film. Actual reports mention him as Mohan Chand Sharma. John Abraham is shown to be his boss, the DCP behind the encounter — Sanjay Kumar, based on the actual Sanjeev Kumar Yadav. The film picks the incident to crack open a thoroughly dramatised thriller, that is a frantic police-procedural (to nab a terror mastermind), a departmental investigation, and a court-room drama, all at once.
Which explains a running-time dangerously close to three hours. Sure, the flow isn't as seamlessly as you may like it to be — the confident leading man transitioning into a broken-down cop, with suicidal thoughts (just for a minor instance). And the film, lacking in high points, may feel tonally flat to some.
But no doubt, it keeps you stuck to the seat nonetheless, largely for the rich visual detailing, meaty research — basically fine writing/dialogue (Ritesh Shah) — gluing it all together. Sometimes it's not what you thought while you were exiting the theatre as what you expected while entering it, which makes all the difference, over how you felt about a film.
Watch Batla House Trailer
Frankly, I went in expecting little. For one, didn't think much of the only thriller director Nikkhil Advani has helmed in the past — D-Day (2013), based on a fictitious mission to capture Dawood Ibrahim, which was all very good, until Dawood started getting dragged on his knees in the Thar desert! There's no escaping basic Bollywood tropes here either. But it's done all so smartly to never take attention away from a deeply realistic crime-drama. This is clearly Advani's best work in a long while; suspect since the animation film Delhi Safari (2012), if not his rom-com debut, Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003)!
At the centre of it all is of course Abraham, who doesn't always inspire much confidence for a film of this sort. Calm, restrained, completely undemonstrative, action super-star Abraham appears to be even channelling his inner 'Aamir Khan', if you observe him closely on occasion! Yup, quite a revelation.
That said, don't know whether DCP Yadav, on whom the protagonist is based, really entered Batla House that morning. Probably did. Here's what the film compels you to do though. Read up more and more about the case. This is already saying a lot. Last time that happened? Maybe Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday? Woah, now that's a seriously tall compliment.
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