‘Batla House is an important and gripping drama that is marred by unnecessary melodrama and commercial tropes’
Cast: John Abraham, Mrunal Thakur, Ravi Kishan, Rajesh Sharma, Manish Chaudhari
Director: Nikkhil Advani
Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)
The infamous Batla House Encounter took place on 19 September 2008, against terrorist in Batla House locality in Jamia Nagar, Delhi. In the Encounter two terrorists, Atif Ameen and Mohammad Sajid, were killed while two others Mohammad Saif and Zeeshan, were arrested. Ariz Khan managed to escape. Encounter specialist and Delhi Police inspector Mohan Chand Sharma was martyred during the incident. The encounter led to the arrest of a number of local people, leading to widespread allegations and protests by political parties, civil society groups, activists, especially teachers and students of the Jamia Millia Islamia University. Several political organizations like Rashtriya Ulama Council, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) demanded an independent Judicial Enquiry into the encounter. The court and the Human Rights Commission cleared the police of any wrong doing and declared the encounters to be genuine. However, Speculations and debates about it still continue.
Batla House, the film is a retelling of the events of 19th September and its aftermath. The film also shows us in brief takes some of the events leading up to the encounters. The names of the characters and that of the university in question have been changed as the encounter still remains open for appeal in courts. There are some cinematic liberties taken and a few characters added for dramatic and commercial thrust to the film. I checked out a lot of material available online about the incident in preparation for this review and it appeared to me that the makers of the film (Nikkhil Advani, Bhushan Kumar and John Abraham) have kept the story and the treatment quite close to the real events.
The film starts with the viewers getting an idea about the time when the story unfolds as news items tell us about the serial blasts that have rocked Delhi and how the police haven’t been able to nab the culprits. ACP Sanjay Kumar (John Abraham) is a highly decorated police officer who is easily having the worse day of his life as a married man as his news-anchor wife is all set to divorce him. Sanjay is still, calm but morose. When his wife, in a last ditch attempt to save their marriage and expecting him to convince her to stay back, tries to get his attention and time , Sanjay bluntly tells her that her decision to leave him is correct and she should proceed. From here Sanjay goes straight to Batla House where not only he is shot at but has to face an angry mob that in a matter of days, weeks, months and year turn this highly decorated hero into a murderer in the public eye.
The film takes three approaches to the story. Sanjay’s view and dealing of the whole matter, the mob’s understanding and demonization of the police for the incident and finally the Court and Human Rights Organization’s understanding and verdict on the encounters. Sanjay’s approach out of the three takes up about 90 percent of the film’s runtime and also includes his dealing with his own post traumatic stress disorder and how his wife shuns all self vanity and comes out in his support and the two re-kindle their relationship. The film remains tout, engrossing and laudable when it sticks to Sanjay’s investigation of the missing terrorists and also when he is facing enquiry and the public outcry. The portions showing the internal politics surrounding the encounter is also subtly dealt with and is highly affecting.
However, everytime the film plunges into the mental state of Sanjay or his relationship with his wife, the narrative takes a dive into the ordinary. It’s not that the actors do badly in these sequences. The problem is that we have a lot more interesting plot points in the narrative that we are in a hurry to get back to and this portion only delays that and gets on our nerves. We are not interested to see the weaker side of Sanjay or how he breaks down infront of his wife handing her a dissembled gun to hide unless he uses it on himself in haste. We would rather love watching him track down a terrorist and pummel him. Watch him throw a monologue that would be enough to silence even the most vocal of opposition and see him viciously express his frustration on the system but turn benign momentarily at the sight of the tricolor.
John Abraham is getting really good at playing these characters (Parmanu, Madras Café, and Romeo Akbar Walter) and I believe that Batla House just might be his best rendering of a cop till date. He is subtle, believable and menacing when he has to be. The feel of the character suits his deadpan sensibility well and that in many ways elevates the affectivity of his performance. He is also able to extract tension through his essay which might just be a first for him. I was surprised how well he did in the sequences that he shared with his wife played by Mrunal Thakur. These sequences might be the weak link of the film but they are in no way poorly acted. Mrunal Thakur is efficient and essays her part with conviction. Ravi Kishan has a short role but leaves a mark with his flamboyant act. Rajesh Sharma is one of my favorite character actors of recent times and he proves me right yet again with a terrific essay. I hated his wig and it was unnecessary but the moment he gets in the groove, the wig was the last thing that I cared about.
Batla House is an absorbing watch. It has an extremely important and relevant story to tell and it does well to keep a firm grip on realism while telling it. The makers don’t leave the situation open ended but incites enough interest and open up room for consideration and understanding owing to the manner in which it approaches the subject matter and culminates it. The fact that the film hasn’t had any substantial opposition from political and other outfit only goes on to show how well made it is. It would have been a far better film had they just kept out the unnecessary melodrama, song dance routines and Nora Fatehi out of it all together.
By Ambar Chatterjee
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