Batla House review: No guns blazing but John Abraham puts up a fine defense

Inconsistent screenplay, mixed performances and low on thrill, but director Nikkhil Advani, writer Ritesh Shah give a fairly accurate account of the 2008 terror encounter

Rating: 3/5

By Mayur Lookhar

Tackling terror can be a thankless job. Leave aside praise, it can also earn you brickbats.

On 19 September 2008, a few Delhi policeman, led by encounter specialist Mohan Chand Sharma and Sanjeev Kumar Yadav carried out the Batla House operation killing two terrorists and arresting two. Sharma was martyred in the encounter. After being praised for their heroics, the encounter team had their credibility questioned when certain politicians, section of media, activists labelled their act as a fake encounter. It triggered a debate across political, media circles but the truth eventually prevailed.

11 years on, the episode inspired director Nikkhil Advani to create his Batla House [2019]. Encounter specialist KK Verma [Ravi Kishan] is killed in the encounter. Inspector Sanjay Kumar [John Abraham], Verma’s reporting officer, is now under the cosh to prove that this encounter was no fake.

In the past, a filmmaker would have been hesitant to touch upon a contentious encounter. Batla House [2019] though comes in an environment where conflicting views are deemed as dissent, one that can see you being being labelled an anti-national. Not for a moment is this writer questioning the authenticity of Operation Batla House. Mohan Chand Sharma will forever be a martyr, while Sanjeev Kumar and his team will be hailed heroes for life.

Timing a film is vital though. The Congress party and its secular allies, that was often criticised for being a little soft on terror, are not just out of power, but their popularity is perhaps at its lowest. The doubting Thomas’s from 2008 are no where to be seen and are left to eat humble pies. And the film is lined up as an Independence Day release. The producers couldn’t have timed Batla House right.

Pink [2016], Raid [2018] writer Ritesh Shah gives a fairly accurate representation of the Batla House encounter and its subsequent events. Shah and director Advani have also coated it with the usual dose of drama.

In his media interview, Sanjeev Kumar Yadav had hoped for the film to stick as close to the facts. While Shah’s script is fairly accurate, he’s taken few creative liberties to portray the drama. A gripping true story, but the inconsistent screenplay hampers its growth. The first half is fairly tight but the film goes a little awry in the second half. The courtroom drama is a little overbearing and the mixed performance by the cast stifle the promising plot.

Over the last year and half, John Abraham has thrived on films with patriotic themes. It all started with Parmanu – The Story of Pokhran [2018], followed by Satyameva Jayate [2018] and the spy thriller Romeo Akbar Walter [2019].

Batla House is the second successive Independence Day release for Abraham after the hugely successful Satyameva Jayate [2018]. It’s a second successive Independence Day reunion for Abraham and Advani with the latter helming Batla House. (Advani had co-produced Satyameva Jayate]. From playing the corrupt cop killer in Satyameva Jayate, Abraham moves to playing the cop under investigation in Batla House..

Abraham often works around his limited ability. Batla House is no brawn show as Abraham is required to bear a grim look for large parts of the film. The actor has often copped criticism for his wooden acting. Those frailties hound him here too, and it’s particularly reflected in Sanjay Kumar’s one too many hallunications. But the actor holds his own in crucial sequences.

Where Abraham and the film suffer is his pairing with Mrunal Thakur. It’s not so much the age barrier, but the poor chemistry between Abraham and Thakur that drags the film. Her presence is not academic. Nandita Kumar [Thakur] is a news anchor who doesn’t hesitate in reporting all the happenings around the case involving her husband [Sanjay Kumar]. Thakur has impressed in films like Love Sonia [2018] and Super 30 [2019] but she fails to convince you in Batla House.

Save for Ravi Kishan’s cameo, the rest of the supporting cast don’t make much of an impression. Rajesh Sharma is defending the captured accused terrorist Dilshad [Sahidur Rahaman]. Shailesh Arya’s [Sharma] feeble arguments is matched by his silly hairdo. Utkarsh Rai, who plays the judge presiding over the case, comes across as lousy. Pramod Pathak, who plays Sanjay Kumar’s lawyer, too is underwhelming. The three most key men in the courtroom are also hampered by average dialogues.

Nora Fatehi has more than a sizzling dance number here. As a dancer, she is unrivalled, but as an actor, she has miles to go.

Advani returns to directing a feature film after four years. Shah’s well researched script worked to Advani’s advantage but the director could have cut a bit on the melodrama. Also, in the endevour to stick to the truth, the film is perhaps low on thrill.

Advani deserves credit as the film exposes but it doesn’t demonises the doubting Thomas’s that questioned the credibility of the Batla House Encounter. A democracy entitles everyone the right to question, but the media, activists, needn’t lose sight of objectivity. In the climax, Sanjav Kumar doesn’t deny that there are fake encounters too but that’s not the case here.

When it comes to terrorism and national security, the nation, has a right to question certain acts, but eventually we all must speak in one voice. Yes, certain members from the dethroned secular parties may label Batla House a propaganda film but Batla House doesn’t celebrate any ideology. After all, the truth in the Batla House case was out when the the secular parties were in power. What’s regrettable though is certain politician using such episode for vote bank politics.

The inconsistent screenplay, mixed performance drag the film down but the film succeeds in presenting an unbiased account of the Batla House encounter.

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