'Batla House' review: A solid, well-written thriller

'Batla House' review: A solid, well-written thriller

Bollywood actor John Abraham, starcast of movie 'Batla House', during a press conference (PTI Photo)

Director: Nikkhil Advani

Starring: John Abraham, Ravi Kishan, Mrunal Thakur

Score: 3.5/5 stars

It’s not every day you see a film that comes with a lengthy disclaimer professing that it does not take sides and attempts to present as clear a view of the events it is based on, but here we are. Batla House is, to say the least, a very dramatised look on the infamous encounter case, and a surprisingly good one at that.

The film starts off with a brisk pace, putting us right in the heat of the actual encounter that led to the entire case, following a short-lived drama between our leads – and immediately makes apparent the way it intends to present itself. Sanjay Kumar (John Abraham), the ACP in charge of the case is forced to make certain decisions, leading to a whole host of problems for him later on.

Of course, once the encounter occurs, everything goes downhill for the police, who are accused of being blood-thirsty murderers who set up a fake encounter even as one of their own is killed. That, combined with apparent apathy from the ruling disposition and their desperate desire to not be seen as ‘anti-minority’ forms a key part of the struggle that Kumar faces.

The first thing you’ll notice about the film is its presentation and editing. Owing to the nature of its source, the film maintains a largely serious tone throughout, with only the odd moments of levity and a jarringly off-putting yet somehow important item song being there to lighten the load. Maahir Zaveri understands the things expected of a film of this nature and has given a cut that never feels like it’s overlong or overstaying its welcome.

The other thing of note is the acting. Batla House presents Sanjay Kumar as a cop suffering from PTSD, perhaps owing to the encounter itself as it manifests repeatedly, but being a man in his position, he cannot allow it to overcome him. Abraham, the usually flamboyant actor, is remarkably controlled in his presentation of Kumar’s shortcomings and quirks.

The supporting cast is also pretty decently decked out, with Mrinal Thakur’s Nandita Kumar being a vulnerable yet determined counter to Kumar’s stoic facade. Even Ravi Kishan’s KK, based on Mohan Chand Sharma, the cop killed in the encounter, gets a decent bit of screen time in various forms.

The plot of the film is something of a mix of everything given the complexity of the case itself. Much like the real-world issue, the film also presents many participants, all of whom do not necessarily share the drive of the police officers. The film makes particular note of presenting NGOs who acted in defence of the terrorism accused and shows how some media outlets would ‘spin’ the news, facts be damned, for the sake of viewership. If one had to compare this film's presentation of the police, Drishyam would be a fine example. Drishyam acts as a perfect antithesis because it presents the idea of police brutality, while Batla House presents the pressure of being a cop.

Of course, it would not be a Bollywood film without the songs, and here as well, Batla House maintains a tight focus. The songs are few and far in between, but while most of them are pleasant, the aforementioned item song is kind of distracting from the fluid narrative that the film otherwise relies on.

Batla House is a rare example of Bollywood putting out a well-crafted piece of work that fires mostly successfully on every cylinder. Not many of them come to theatres every year, but when they do, they’re worth the price of admission.

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