Delhi police could not have got a better PR job if they had actually commissioned Batla House. However, in the best stranger-than-fiction mode, Nikkhil Advani’s film is based on true events.
Those who keep track of the news and have a memory for current happenings, the film is a fictionalised version of the Batla House encounter of 2008, in which a cop and two suspected terrorists were killed in a shootout in a Delhi apartment block.
Muslim groups, sensation-seeking media, opportunistic leaders and human rights organisations accused officers of the Special Cell of killing innocent students to cover up their own failure in preventing bomb blasts in the city. Caught in the mess not of his making, is ACP Sanjay Kumar (John Abraham), the laconic cop, who faces a crumbling marriage to a TV reporter (Mrunal Thakur), as well as post-traumatic stress disorder; the PTSD is caused by taking a bullet in the chest (blocked by the vest he is wearing).
Neither his superiors nor the politicians dealing with noisily protesting minority mobs and a hostile media, stop to ask how supposedly innocent kids acquired sophisticated weapons; perhaps because the script (Ritesh Shah) wants to stack the obstacles Sanjay has to overcome. The actual incident is seen several times from different points of view, not to create a Rashomon-like selective-truth scenario but to exonerate the cops who were sent to investigate, not to engage.
Part of the film is a thriller, with shootouts, chases over rooftops and some cloak-and-dagger spying to trap a terrorist—all of which are fast-paced, well-shot and engrossing.
Then, it converts to a court room drama in which Sanjay–wife firmly back by his side– has to defend himself against a sneering prosecutor (Rajesh Sharma in a ridiculous wig). The minutes tick slowly till Sanjay gets to deliver his rousing monologue
Lest there be some criticism of whitewashing the notoriously brutal methods of the police in North India, Sanjay admits (not in court, obviously) that cops do stage fake encounters at times, but none in which a cop (Ravi Kishen) is killed and another wounded.
John Abraham has wisely begun to choose roles and back films that play to his strengths–a solid physique and a face that can be granite-like– he barely cracks a smile in the film, but makes for a convincingly angry and beleagured cop. None of the other actors have much to do except prop him up, so that he can shoulder the burden of carrying a film which retains some level of complexity, despite simplifying the politics (and adding an item number) to appeal to a mainstream audience, that prefers everything to be black and white, when many shades of grey exist.