Cast: John Abraham, Mrunal Thakur, Ravi Kishan
Director: Nikhhil Advani
Batla House claims to be an unbiased film by running a disclaimer during one of the important scenes involving two parties presenting their sides inside a courtroom. This seems awkward because the whole film has been told from the perspective of one of them.
Soon, all our apprehensions about the film’s stance come true and we are left wondering about the futility of such a disclaimer. But that doesn’t make Batla House a dull or lethargic film as it combines all the essential tropes of mainstream Bollywood films in remarkably entertaining fashion, and make you sit and notice the fluidity of the narrative.
What happened inside house number L-18 on September 19, 2008, is still a mystery to many but director Nikhhil Advani’s film seems determined to reach a conclusion. For that, it recreates some major characters like a certain vice chancellor or an activist or the lawyer sticking his neck out for the accused students. The events shown on TV during and after the encounter, in which two university students were killed, are still fresh in memories, so it doesn’t take much to identify them.
Advani gets a Delhi Police officer Sanjay Kumar (a pleasantly restrained John Abraham) at the site of the encounter within minutes, and gives us a bird eye view of the situation. It’s evident he would return to the scene of the crime later. Another office KK (Ravi Kishan) gets killed during the encounter and adds one more dimension to the story—intradepartmental rivalry!
Then there is Kumar’s stressed personal life too.
In short, all the boxes of traditional Hindi film storytelling are checked. Which means, there is a chance to generate sympathy for Kumar before he bursts out on to the scene in all his glory.
Advani also plays with the idea of a grey shaded police force where it’s difficult to call the right from the wrong. Led by an always dependable Manish Chaudhary, the cops are dubious yet united in the war against terrorism, and right there, the film gets its most cohesive factor.
This also paves way for Abraham’s monologue and the justification any such film would need before bombarding you with punchlines and applause-worthy scenes. To Advani’s credit, all this seems like a natural progression.
Abraham has a distinct brand of patriotism—he wouldn’t take sides just like that. Be it Parmanu or RAW, he tries his best to not make his projects take an anti-minority stand. Batla House follows a similar trajectory. Here, you would witness him speaking out his core idea as a filmmaker in as many words. Though some scenes are done to death, but his sincerity works tremendously in favour of Batla House. It convinces the audience to expect a just hero rather than a biased one.
There is no intention of delving deep though, provided you consider Talvar kind of filmmaking a thoughtful attempt to watch old facts in a new light. In Batla House, we always know who enjoys the upper-hand.
Apart from a scene or two, in which Abraham plays to the gallery without any qualms, Batla House presents him as an able actor with good understanding of the milieu he is operating in. Just that, don’t look for legitimacy at every juncture.
Batla House has ingredients to keep you engaged for more than 140 minutes, provided which side are you on—activists who still smell a foul play or police that claims to have not heard of anything substantial from Indian Mujahideen after that September encounter!