Bollywood is infamous for celebrating cops who notoriously flex their muscles till their shirts tear up and their gym bods glitter and shine but ever-so-often there are filmmakers who destroy that hideous image. Director Nikkhil Advani’s Batla House attempts to fight the stereotype. He refuses to do a Dabangg, and lets John Abraham keep his shirt on. Yet, he's unable to weave together something as spectacular as Manoj Bajpai's Shool or Nana Patekar's Ab Tak Chappan.
Advani, however, wins points for picking an intriguing, yet controversial plotline - centring much of the ammunition on the Batla House encounter of 2008. And writer Ritesh Shah manages to kickstart the proceedings with some killer scenes. Just minutes after the curtains go up, Sanjay Kumar (John Abraham), inspired by reallife Delhi cop Sanjeev Kumar Yadav, is seen struggling to break away from a demanding yet broken wife. He sits, head down, even as his phone rings importantly. And it’s his decision to be with her that leaves him vulnerable. A massive bloodshed follows and he’s seen rushing into it unprepared as Saumik Mukherjee brilliantly frames his moves in monochrome and colour. Just minutes after he’s pumping bullets into his “enemies”, you catch the cop standing defenseless and troubled by the men he has just eliminated.
But soon enough you witness Advani’s downfall, as he uses the same gimmicks his peers did. There’s an item number that you can second guess when Nora Fatehi announces she’s a “dancer” or when a romantic track plays out as a couple struggle to make sense of the world they find themselves in. In fact, generous cuts on the editing desk would’ve gone a long way in keeping the proceedings tight. Also, Advani refuses to let the spotlight shift from the main cop, often making us wonder if it’s just his life that we must be invested in even though there are so many others involved in the massacre.
John Abraham slips into yet another broody hero character, leading a team to fight good over evil. He tackles every conflict with a measured, wooden gaze and lets the camera do much of the magic. Mrunal Thakur, who plays his wife, falters as his young wife. She’s easy on the eyes, no doubt, but isn’t convincing to lend depth or drama to her personal or professional life.
While Advani picks an intriguing plot for his thriller, he bungles up and refuses to let Batla House soar.