Friday Review

Revenge and redemption

Sriram Raghavan returns to pure noir with “Badlapur”.   | Photo Credit: 20dfrSriram

A mild mannered South Indian man, who comes up with dark, explosive ideas. This could be Sriram Raghavan’s character sketch in one of his own films. As one of the leading figures of Indian noir, Raghavan is carrying forward the legacy of Vijay Anand. He admits, “When my mother wanted to watch ‘Teesri Kasam’, I was rooting for ‘Teesri Manzil’.” This week he seems to be reinterpreting the basic emotion of revenge through his latest creation “Badlapur”. It is about a man called Raghu who is out to avenge the murder of his wife and kid 15 years after the crime. The film is making news as much about Raghavan’s return to pure noir as Varun Dhawan’s attempt to shed his chocolate boy image and taking on Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Talking about the theme, Raghavan says the film has more to it than revenge. “I would not have been interested in doing just a revenge film simply because I have seen so many revenge films right from Clint Eastwood films to Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Sholay’ and ‘Ghayal’ and various variants of them. Bahut ho chuka hai.”

He goes on to explain his reasons. “When Raghu sets out to take revenge, initially, I expect people to root for him but gradually the audience will start getting a little uncomfortable. You start wondering whether it is the right thing to do. Raghu is like any of us. This could happen to anyone of us. He doesn’t scale walls and jump into larger than life space. It compels people to have their own take on revenge.”

This brings us to the title, drawn from a small town in Maharashtra. “The film is as much about change as it is about revenge. And the title reflects that. After a point it becomes a pun on revenge. Also the film is set in Pune-Nasik belt where the town is. We have shot a small scene there as Raghu inadvertently gets down at Badlapur station.”

As “Ek Hasina Thi” and “Johnny Gaddar”, acquired cult status, Raghavan expanded his canvas with “Agent Vinod” but discovered that scale tends to take away the purity of the content. “Box office is a monster. I don’t know how to control it.” Unlike his plots, Raghavan is always direct with his answers. Sitting at the coffee shop of a plush multiplex in South Delhi, Raghavan could notice the interest of the young media persons in his protagonist Varun Dhawan. “They are all stressed, I am not,” says Raghavan referring to the anxious face of producer Dinesh Vijan. “We signed him much before he got established as a chocolate boy.” But now it could come in the way of how the film is perceived. “People will come for Varun’s image till Sunday. From Monday it is my film. The weekend pressure has emerged only in the last five years. It is a stupid pressure. Both ‘Hasina’ and ‘Johnny’ were box office flops but over the years they have become hits with people watching them on video and internet. But I agree the market dynamics are such that the producer wants everybody to watch it on Friday.”

He experienced this pressure during “Agent Vinod”. “‘Vinod’ had its faults and high points. It came immediately after two very powerful and realistic films ‘Kahaani’ and ‘Paan Singh Tomar’. When people watch good films they want other films to be of that calibre as well particularly when you cater to the same core audience. I had to face lot of pressure. It had to be a U/A film as with Saif and Kareena you can’t make an adult film. Gaane hone chahiye. I am not undermining that genre. These are accepted pressures and if you could do the balancing act one should do it.”

So in a way he is hitting back. “My brother Shridhar, (eminent scriptwriter and his sounding board) said as much. After making a ‘big’ film. I thought let’s make a small film where I could keep the purity of the content. It is little risky so let’s keep it as inexpensive as possible. But now the expectations are getting bigger!

He has faith in Varun. “Whether you like the film or not you will feel that it was a bold choice for Varun to make. In between he delivered a couple of hits but he didn’t insist on any changes to suit his image. Like there was a whole debate to go for a U/A certificate. He agreed with me that for the satellite release we can go for a slightly watered down version but for the big screen we should go for the purest form. Luckily, we have got the A-certificate with no cuts.”

Raghavan feels people will see the hunger to understand the character in Varun’s performance. But looking at his responses during the press conference, it seems he is making too much of the role. “He is young. He hasn’t seen any major tragedies in life. I asked him to talk to people who have experienced loss and understand what goes on in their head. He took it very seriously and he would come to me with stories of people like he met a friend who lost his wife to cancer and the next day he was with him at work. Like a psychiatrist he imbibed the stories of a lot of patients and went through a change.” It paid off on screen. “When I started I was like with Nawaz I will improvise and with Varun I will follow a rigid approach and stick to the lines. GraduallyI improvised with Varun as well. I never used to say cut even when the scene was officially over. And sometimes what he did then was fantastic. He expressed from his own well of emotions and we have retained portions of it.”

Raghavan also had a lot of arguments with Dinesh about the ending. “At the end he wanted me to give a clear cut message that this is how it was but I said the viewer should ask it to himself. Each viewer will draw his own inference. To me it is important that the viewer goes out with something in his head.”

The promos ask us not to miss the opening 15 minutes but then they go on to reveal the crux. “Hollywood thrillers give away almost 70 percent of the story in promos but still the film remains interesting. In India we do a lot of cuts and put in songs in promos to create an impact. I am fine with giving out X amount of information because the story is really about what happens next. You already know that Yami Gautam’s character and her kid are going to getting killed but then I still want to surprise you, shock you.”

When violence gets realistic on screen, often, the director’s social responsibility is questioned. “My responsibility as a filmmaker is not to give any message. This is a film noir. The main person is somebody whom we all identify with. When he does something which is morally questionable we start wondering would we do the same thing. We almost want him to get away. Like in ‘Johnny Gaddar’ even if Johnny was doing something terrible we wanted him to get away. This is our nature.”

When it comes to genres, romance and drama often overshadow thrillers. “In love stories you have to establish the mood and then you can go on. Writing thrillers are difficult because every scene needs a twist. May be comedy is even more difficult but I have no experience of it. However, when we began the cast and producer thought Badlapur is a dark and serious film but it turned out to be lot of fun as well. Now Nawaz says, ‘you have a sense of humour, you don’t show it.’” What he does show is references to his favourite films. He admits that he over did it in ‘Agent Vinod’ and here the references fall naturally into the storytelling. “There is a line from ‘Sholay’ for which we had to shell out a big amount. Then there is a reference of ‘Kaalia’.”

On CBFC’s list of cuss words

The list is not a good thing. If somebody hits your car on the road you are not going to say mere dost tune kya kiya. In none of my films I have used abuses as a crutch. I don’t feel that the use of abuses makes the dialogues better or realistic. This is my personal choice but at the same time that there should not be a list. It all depends on the context. When actors improvise sometimes they come up with an abuse. Like in “Badlapur” there was a C-word and an F-word but the CBFC asked us to mute it despite the fact that we asked for an A certificate. I agreed to mute or change the words because it doesn’t affect my story or the impact of the scene. Still I maintain that the rule doesn’t make sense.


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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 11:37:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/interview-with-sriram-raghavan/article6912977.ece

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