Movie Review: Batla House
BATLA HOUSE is the story of an upright cop caught in a sticky situation. The year is 2008. The Indian Mujahideen has conducted a series of blasts across the country. Their latest attack is in the capital city, Delhi, on September 13. ACP Sanjay Kumar (John Abraham) is having trouble in his marriage with Nandita (Mrunal Thakur). On September 19, he is informed by his team that the terrorists responsible for this blast are holed up in a flat in L-18, Batla House in the Okhla locality of the city. Before Sanjay could reach the site, his junior officer K K (Ravi Kishan) orders the team to engage with the occupants of the said house. The occupants who are Okhla University students fire at the cops, injuring K K grievously. Sanjay meanwhile reaches and he along with the rest of the police team eliminate the shooters. One of them, Tufail (Alok Pandey) is arrested. Even before the cops could leave, the residents begin raising slogans against the police. Soon, the media and political leaders blame the police for staging a fake encounter. K K on the other hand passes away in hospital. Sanjay meanwhile finds it difficult to prove that he’s right and that these residents of Batla House were indeed a part of Indian Mujahideen. He also informs the police department that there were two more guys in the Batla House flat who escaped, one of which is Dilshaad Ahmed (Sahidur Rehman). He escaped to Nizampur, Uttar Pradesh. Sanjay’s senior Jayvir (Manish Chaudhari) sternly tells Sanjay not to head to Nimzapur to arrest Dilshaad. Yet, Sanjay defies the orders and heads to nab Dilshaad with his team. In Nizampur, he encounters hostile residents and a leader of a political party who tell him to back off. Yet, he goes ahead and attempts to take Dilshaad back to Delhi. The locals on one hand are baying for his blood. On other hand, Jayvir and other senior cops are slamming Sanjay for his irresponsible action. What happens next forms the rest of the film.
Ritesh Shah’s story is well researched and gripping. Moreover, it’s extremely relevant in today’s times. Many might not be aware of this case and how it led to such a huge controversy at that time. Hence, the novelty factor is also there. Ritesh Shah’s screenplay is captivating for most parts but is shaky in the first half. The film should have been simpler yet thrilling and devoid of too much of docudrama feel, for a better impact. However, there’s no doubt that some scenes are exceptionally scripted. Ritesh Shah’s dialogues are acidic and sharp. The one-liners in the climax work very well.
Nikkhil Advani’s direction is simply brilliant. He understands the material he has in his hand and its sensitive nature. He has handled some scenes deftly and shows his brilliance in the interrogation scene in the first half and later in the courtroom sequences. Also, the Rashomon effect works well here to make the audiences wonder as to which version is correct. However, a few scenes in the first half are not up to the mark. Some scenes might even confuse viewers. For instance, it is bewildering why Sanjay switches off the camera during a crucial interrogation. Thankfully, the plusses outweigh the minuses by a huge margin here.
BATLA HOUSE’s first half is decent but one misses the overall ‘Wow’ factor here. The reason behind the straining of relations between Sanjay and Nandita is not explained properly. The encounter is only partly shown and hence, one remains confused as to what exactly transpired between the police and the students. Also, Sanjay’s constant hallucination sequences become a little too much after a point. But on the positive side, a few scenes are quite promising. The film picks up in a big way when Sanjay quotes from the Holy Quran while interrogating Tufail. This powerful scene will surely be greeted with claps and whistles and it also proves how vested interests smartly misinterpret religious texts for violent gains. The Nizampur episode is a bit over the top but is quite thrilling. The intermission point also comes at a great moment. Post-interval, the interest levels increase as Sanjay gets determined to nab Dilshaad. The entry of Victoria (Nora Fatehi) adds charm to the film. But the best is reserved for the last 35-40 minutes. The courtroom drama is quite exhilarating and clap worthy. Also, once the entire scenario becomes clear, the film becomes simpler. As a result, audiences would be even more interested once they know the complete picture. Sanjay’s monologue at this hour ensures the film ends on a high.
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BATLA HOUSE belongs to John Abraham, without a shred of doubt. He is not just playing a brave, decorated police officer. He also essays the role of a person who is abused and slammed from all quarters. No one wants to know or believe his version of truth. The trauma he faces is brought out beautifully by John. Also, he’s first-rate as expected in action scenes and also in dramatic and confrontational sequences. Mrunal Thakur is letdown a bit by the script as the back story is never revealed. But she gives a decent performance. In the second half, she impresses even more as the woman who stands up for her husband. Ravi Kishan leaves a huge mark in a small role. Manish Chaudhari is efficient. Rajesh Sharma (Advocate Shailesh Arya) is quite scathing, as per his character’s requirement. Nora Fatehi provides much-needed sizzle in the film. Her character has a small but important role in the film. Alok Pandey and Sahidur Rehman play their respective parts with earnest. Pramod Pathak (Defence counsel P Krishnan) has a late entry but makes an impact. Others also do well.
Songs aren’t memorable except for of course ‘O Saki Saki’. The item song is quite entertaining but it starts off quite suddenly though. ‘Rula Diya’ and ‘Jaako Rakhe’ are okay. John Stewart Eduri’s background score is subtle yet adds to the impact. Adil Shaikh’s choreography in ‘O Saki Saki’ is visually great.
Soumik Mukherjee’s cinematography is topnotch. This is especially in the interior scenes of Batla House flat and in the chase sequence in the small town. Priya Suhas’s production design is quite realistic. Amin Khatib’s action is thrilling and yet not gory or disturbing at all. Maahir Zaveri’s editing is razor sharp in many scenes and also stylish. But this kind of editing also affects the impact in some of the scenes in the first half.
On the whole, BATLA HOUSE is a powerful saga which is sure to spark off discussions and debates. The relevant plot, watertight screenplay, clapworthy moments and terrific performance by John Abraham make BATLA HOUSE one of the finest films of the year. At the box office, it will have a promising run. Recommended!