here is a strong storm brewing in our deeply polarized society. It’s not about the haves and have-nots any longer. It’s about ‘them’ and ‘us’. The Muslims under siege since terrorism become tragically linked to one community, and the Hindus, the majority, who have suddenly become as defensive and aggressive as the minorities, are no longer hiding their mutual exclusive existence. Isolation is a given that Batla House tackles with empathy and virility.
And then there are the human rights organizations baying for blood each time the blood of the perpetrators of bloody violence is shed. Nikhil Advani’s powerful and tense anti-terror drama captures the sweaty self-preservation tactics of the Delhi cops after the Batla House incident in September 2008 when some students alleged to have terror links, were gunned down by supercop Sanjay Kumar (John Abraham) and his dedicated team who are thereafter accused of staging a fake encounter killing innocent Muslim students.
Advani’s narrative is fraught with smothered wrath. Though the film finally cops-out and is forced into a corner against being judgmental on the sham/authenticity of the ‘Batla’ encounter (we never really know where the colour of guilt shows its true colours) there is no doubt which side the film is on.
The colour khaki forever pressurized from both ends by the saffron and green brigade gets a big 21-gun salute in this film celebrating the wounds of the law enrforcers that never heal. There is a raw visceral hurt at the heart of this film. John Abraham as the cop-hero whose life is caught in a web of terrorism and trauma is most effective when communicating his character’s disgust at red-tapism. Watch his face choke up with stifled hatred while speaking to a fellow-cop who openly sucks up to a politician.
This is a man who can’t tolerate scummy slothful behavior. John is growing progressively adept at portraying the nation’s conscience.
Manish Chaudhary as John’s senior and Ravi Kissan as an oldworld colleague who gets killed, are in fine shape. But many of the supporting performances, including Mrunal Thakur as John’s ever-whining matrimonial nemesis, suffer from an absence of intrinsic vitality. In fact, the cop-hero’s domestic life needed more rigorous treatment. Instead, the scenes showing the marital scuffles are repetitive and even trite and tiring.
“Our marriage is breaking,” the wife screams at the very beginning as though a broken marriage was a teeshirt logo. We needed to be shown, not told that. Luckily the scenes showing the cops in conflict with disgruntled elements on the simmering streets are far less bogged down by inept writing.
The scenes building up a tension on the roads as the indignant righteous moral police explodes against the law enforcers, is shot with an eye for authentic immediacy and detailed fidelity. Saumik Mukherjee’s camera, constantly searching and prying, doesn’t lie still. He explores the seething temperament of a nation on the edge with mounting tension lodged in every frame. Maahir Zaveri’s editing knows when to hold back and when to let go. The narrative has a tactile freeflowing rhythm to it. The action scenes build up a tempo organically. There is no panic rush to get our attention.
The courtroom finale is appropriately inconclusive and non-judgmental.
Batla House is a film that allows us the audience to come to our own conclusions about remedial guilt and compromised absolution. In not giving us a solution it provides the best option to a society that clearly doesn’t want to learn from the lessons served up by history.