Director: Nikkhil Advani
Cast: John Abraham, Divya Khosla Kumar, Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar
On Independence Day this year, there were films from both Akshay Kumar and Budget Akshay Kumar aka John Abraham. Both have made the cloying, patriotic shtick their own to different extents, scale and production values. John Abraham produces and stars in Batla House which is based on the eponymous encounter case against the Indian Mujahideen terrorists, later suspected to be students. There was a judicial inquiry into the allegations of fake encounter, carried out due to mounting pressure to deal with bombings earlier across the Indian capital.
John Abraham, unsurprisingly, has called dibs on this piece of the cinemas of nationalism pie, a Bollywood genre by itself in today’s India. Maybe it works for him. His DCP Sanjeev Kumar Yadav appears in crisp shirts and linen trousers that accentuate his sculpted torso, which really leaps out at you because other things – face to body language – do not. John Abraham has a problem with his hands. In many scenes, he is standing there with his hands somewhere above his trouser pocket, clueless about where they should go. It makes the whole performance a bit awkward. Maybe the hands are restless yet still because they might have innocent’s men’s blood on them. Or that the trauma of the encounter is getting to the point of no return when his hands cannot be empty, they always need the cold metal of a gun caressing them.
But these are the parts where Batla House strives to be interesting. Sanjeev and Nandita (Mrunal Thakur as a news reader with copious amount of conflict of interest) are not a happy couple but they long to play the friend for one final time. A held hand here, a hug there, an unexpected shoulder tap to get through these difficulties. Director Nikkhil Advani (screenplay by Ritesh Shah) brings out the psychological toll the events take on Sanjeev’s life and career, not to mention his marriage which wasn’t rosy to begin with. He also loses a friend and a colleague in KK (a brief Ravi Kishan) during the encounter that adds to his guilt.
Inside Batla House there is scope for a psychological thriller, a deep dive into the post traumatic disorder faced by a policeman of Sanjeev’s stature. It gnaws at him that he saw something else and is hearing something else in his head. But he keeps returning to it, only now to see what he’s been hearing. But the film only teases us, never lingering long enough to make something out of it. The only noticeable quirks are Sanjeev sporting just a mild moustache on an otherwise clean-shaven face when he is clear in his head and then sporting a stubble or falling for the bottle when he cannot handle it anymore.
Batla House is quick to remind you what the majority are here for and the reason that it exists – ride the jingoism wave of contemporary Hindi cinema. There is an uneasy exchange on the meaning of Quran, explained by Sanjeev to the Muslim suspect. The framing reserves special derision for activists and minority political parties. Batla House has a premise that can be mined into different genres but unfortunately for us, it comes at a time when films are toeing the establishment’s agenda.
The Batla House review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.