Batla House (4/5)
Directed by Nikkhil Advani
Produced by John Abraham, Divya Khosla Kumar, Bhushan Kumar and Krishan Kumar
Starring John Abraham, Mrunal Thakur, Nora Fatehi
A much-maligned, scoffed, ridiculed and clichédly portrayed department of the police, regains its voice, respect and point of view through the John Abraham starrer Batla House.
Following a true incident at Batla House in Delhi, a group of young students are killed in a police encounter and there is furor over their innocence. While the neighborhood, community, the activists and the press support them as being mere students targeted by the police as a mode to seek out offenders and scapegoats at the Delhi bomb blasts, the police department has another story that is brushed off as unbelievable. What is more, in the same encounter, the police lose one of its well-decorated officers KK Verma, played by Ravi Kishan. The story of Batla House lies in that crucible of heated arguments, points of view, prejudices, police encounters, chases, religious animosity, guilt, mental illness and more.
John Abraham in his sincerest role, as DCP Sanjeev Kumar Yadav leads the case battling his inner demons himself. He suffers post-traumatic stress and visions of the murders. There is a very subtle John in the film and he embodies restraint, be it in his stoic demeanor while dealing with his wife played by Mrunal Thakur (who, tired of his workaholism is ready to stage a walkout) or fervently working on a controversial case where his closest team members are wrongfully slandered. The film masterfully captures the emotional turmoil that his character goes through while investigating the case that kills his closest aide KK.
The film dares to enter a territory that most film-makers shy away from. It talks about the young student population that gets swayed by religious fanaticism and misled into taking up arms. Not that films of this kind haven’t been made before- this one places a real incident in context to prove it. John’s monologue towards the end of the film speaks on behalf of the honest police officers who brave their lives to protect citizens but are wrongly implicated and do not get the respect they deserve- often left to prove their innocence and motives, negotiating a mesh of political, inter-departmental as well as governmental loopholes and blatant prejudice from the media, activists and community.
Mrunal Thakur plays John’s journalist wife Nandita Kumar, who, initially skeptical, learns to see his point of view and becomes his strength. Through her character, we peek into the world of a media house that has pre-judged the police to be dysfunctional and hence, the victimizers. Nora Fatehi is a surprise element to the film not just because of her dance ‘Saqi Saqi’ but for her role as an informer.
Nikkhil Advani handles the subject with great skill since it is the story about a huge real event. Its premise is held sacred and a fictionalized story is woven around it. The music complements the film’s narrative be it the sad-romantic Rula Diya, the feisty Saqi Saqi or the inspiring Jako Rakhe Saiyan.
The film, though produced by T Series, has the John Abraham touch of making news-based cinema such as Parmanu or Madras Café. There’s a poignant scene during the unfurling of the tricolor that has John and Manish Choudhry in one frame and an unspoken language of his integrity and patriotism. A film of subtle performances, perspectives and prejudices – it is a must-watch!