On the face of it, Mahabharata is nothing more than an ugly dynastic battle. The collateral branches of a clan fight for the throne, playing as many mind games as possible. Scratch the surface and you begin to see that the battle began to avenge the wrongs meted out to Draupadi.
The story of Mahabharata is an essential part of Badla, a remake of the 2017 Spanish film Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest). The movie blends the references from the mythology with the Agatha Christie-esque story by Oriol Paulo, director of Contratiempo. Director and screenwriter Sujoy Ghosh, who has already established himself as a master of whodunits (with Kahaani and Kahaani 2), has been successful in executing it perfectly.
Badla begins in an apartment in Scotland where lawyer and witness preparation consultant Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan) meets rising entrepreneur Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu) who is embroiled in a murder case. Gupta is there to prepare her for the impending trial hearing, which may see more witnesses emerge and the story take an unexpected turn.
The murder took place in a closed hotel room where Sethi’s clandestine affair has come to the fore after her lover, fashion photographer Arjun Joseph (Tony Luke), has been brutally killed. Being the only person present in the room where the murder happened, Sethi is the prime witness and Gupta has to help her come out of the trial, unscathed.
The lawyer expects the truth, and Sethi presents her version of the truth. But there is more, Gupta, the old hand that he is, believes. He insists on full disclosure. She insists on building trust. Meanwhile, another story from the past unfolds. It all began on an isolated road where Sethi and Joseph met with an accident and resulting in the death of a person. There was a passerby who could be a possible witness.
There is also a helpful middle-aged couple—Rani and Nirmal (Amrita Singh and Tanveer Ghani)— residing ahead of that road. They help Joseph tow and fix their car. That’s not all though. A massive discovery is made at the couple’s home, and Sethi’s story sees a huge twist.
But is she still telling the truth? No one knows. The conversation between Gupta and Sethi becomes intense as multiple versions of the story come to fore. There is a deadline of three-hours after which the trial may pick up speed. The clock ticks on the smartphone even as Sethi tries to evade questions. She is rich and powerful. She has already had help from her personal lawyer, Jimmy (Manav Kaul), in erasing her name from the death of the innocent guy. But can Gupta also help her with money and the power she wields?
Ghosh’s execution of the story is engaging, and Avik Mukhopadhyay’s camerawork ensures that the suspense in the story never dies down. And then there’s the masterful acting chops of Bachchan and Pannu—last seen together in Pink—that keep you on the edge-of-your seat. As far as Indian-ising of this story is concerned, Mahabharata isn’t a hard sell. After all, both the stories, no matter what happens in between, at the heart of it, are about revenge.
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Manav Kaul, Amrita Singh