Poorly Written Script Kills John Abraham’s ‘Batla House’
Batla House starts with a long disclaimer. We are expressly told that the film is inspired by the Delhi Police and events that are reported or otherwise available in the public domain. It further adds that it is not a documentary and is not intended to accurately reflect those incidents that may have occurred. With no pressure then to be authentic, it is business as usual for the makers.
The name Batla House as you know brings to mind the much talked about and controversial encounter case in Delhi. Some claimed the police had specific intel that the men hiding in the house were dreaded terrorists and so had to be neutralised. Others claimed they were innocent students. Batla House decides to be very cautious. So cautious that in one of the scenes we have a full caveat flashed on screen saying that the film doesn’t endorse any of the versions of either sides. Why was there a need to write it when you could have shown it? Possibly because the narrative itself has already made up its mind.
DCP Sanjeev Kumar aka John Abraham is a devoted officer. So much so that he has no time even for his news anchor wife (Mrunal Thakur), who cribs and rants but still stands by him. The Batla House encounter case consumes him, sometimes with self doubt when he second guesses himself and wonders if he had been wrong about the young men killed.
Then there are times when the possible guilt is replaced by anger against a system that doesn’t let him perform his duties, as politicians cater to vote banks and the morale of his men is down. At other times, his own death flashes before his eyes as he realises how lucky he is to be alive even after a shot is fired directly at him. This mental turmoil and its cinematic representation with frenzied camera work and flashbacks work well and draw us in.
John Abraham is rock solid and while he may have limitations as an actor with not as many emotions and facial expressions available in his acting arsenal - the angry, no smiling, grinding teeth look is perfect for this role. Abraham is convincing and we are ready to play along but director Nikhil Advani and writer Ritesh Shah aren’t too sure about how they want to approach the subject.
When the two differing versions of the encounter are played out – it’s interesting. The action sequences, the gun battles and chase sequences are arresting and what is also tempting is that there is a possibility for the viewer to make up his own mind. But suddenly, the tone of Batla House shifts and under the weight of being patriotic, it almost seems like the narrative takes a shortcut and feeds us long paragraphs about nationalism and patriotism. The over the top court-room scene, which serves as the climax, is the final nail in the coffin and that’s a pity because Batla House has many moments when it truly shines.
At 146 minutes, the length of Batla House does pinch at times and other characters in the film hardly get a chance to develop, for example, the police officer KK played effectively by Ravi Kishan barely gets the screen time he deserves. Also, Mrunal Thakur who was superb in Love Sonia here seems visibly awkward.
The conflict that plays out in DCP Sanjeev Kumar’s mind and as a result in the minds of the viewers adds a layer of extra intrigue which works in favour of Batla House. But, in order to make it more populist and simplistic, some of the pleasures of the film dwindle. Still there is enough in it for John Abraham fans to cheer about.
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