Batla House movie review: John Abraham tries hard but this police drama isn’t arresting enough
Director - Nikkhil Advani
Cast - John Abraham, Mrunal Thakur, Ravi Kishan
Rating - 2/5
There is a scene in the film Batla House where John Abraham, playing valorous policeman Sanjay Kumar, is listening to someone on the phone. Abraham’s attempt at being stoic renders him indistinguishable from a still photograph. Nikkhil Advani’s film often suffers from the same problem. There’s promise in the subject of a police encounter scrutinised with extreme cynicism by the rest of the nation, and it builds toward an engaging finale, but Advani stands still too long, meandering through wooden actors and limber item-dancers in subplots that miss the point.
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The film starts off well, by giving us the Batla House police encounter of 2008 — a Delhi clash where two alleged terrorists were killed and one ‘encounter specialist’ police officer was martyred — in the first few minutes. This is a bold storytelling gambit from writer Ritesh Shah, leaving us to wallow in the aftermath, with the heroic policeman consumed by doubt and rising media speculations. The problem is that Batla House, with its background score forever ringing climactic, doesn’t seem entirely sure whether it wants to be a Talvar or an Ek Tha Tiger. There are long uninteresting digressions and individual chase-sequences while the film wants to be more.
There’s no true tension, largely because of a mediocre supporting cast who are amateurishly theatrical in both their fear and their laughter. Abraham is steely, but a stronger performer could have given this demanding role some shades of grey. Here, when handing over a dismantled gun to his wife to hide because he doesn’t trust himself with a firearm, he appears merely blank. There is conversation about post traumatic stress disorder, and he fleetingly visits a shrink, but for too long does this hallucinating cop keep himself on the force, firing away.
Mrunal Thakur, playing his wife, gets an interesting character, a television anchor fed up of her husband’s negligence toward her — and thus of the police itself. Thakur, however, delivers dialogue all too flatly. She comes alive only later in the film, when giving her husband lessons in conducting himself for the camera. “Don’t say ‘uh,’ stop playing with your rings, look into the lens,” she corrects reflexively, despite being submissive the rest of the time. “How difficult is it?”
That’s a question worth asking Advani, because the steeplechase obstacles he puts in Abraham’s way before getting to the film’s meaty third act — the courtroom argument — aren’t hard enough to merit as much focus. By the time a white-wigged Rajesh Sharma gets going as an interestingly written prosecutor, I was worn out. Still, the finale is worth attention, even though the film doesn’t commit to its own narrative. In the midst of the courtroom scene, like that pesky no-smoking sign, a rather unprecedented subtitle appears informing us “the film makers do not endorse the views of either side.” Except they already have, clearly showing us what they think has happened and what is fake.
In a powerful melodramatic motif, Abraham keeps rubbing his medal, imagining it to be blood-stained, a la Lady Macbeth. At one point he asks if there has ever been another police encounter where an Inspector has been shot — a tacit suggestion that other encounters without slain cops are mostly staged. His legal defence intriguingly includes the phrase “binary opposition,” but doesn’t move beyond a mention. There was merit to the idea, but I wish they’d rubbed at it harder..
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