Vadh movie review: Sanjay Mishra and Neena Gupta in a patchy yet well-acted drama about justifying murder

Vadh movie review: Sanjay Mishra and Neena Gupta carry this complex drama that deals with the messy aftermath of a gruesome crime.

At first glance, Vadh feels like it might go the Baghban way. The 2003 film, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini, featured the veteran pair as parents who are neglected by their children and later find their own way in life. However, this feature is more a moral exploration of how far one can go when pushed to their limits. (Also read: Goodbye review: Amitabh Bachchan and Rashmika Mandanna can’t save insensitive family drama)

Sanjay Mishra and Neena Gupta play an elderly Gwalior couple, who ideally should be enjoying their retired life, but instead, are trying to muster up the courage to ask their ungrateful NRI son Guddu (Diwakar Kumar) to help them out financially. Years ago, Shambhunath Mishra (Sanjay) took out a large, unfeasible loan to send his son to the US for further studies.

The couple make do now as best as they can, but clearly they are struggling. When the menacing thug Prajapati Pandey (Saurabh Sachdeva) stops by their home one night, the story takes another turn. These scenes are filled with dread as the helpless couple can only silently watch as they are demeaned in their own home.

How the couple fits into this large story of blackmail and intimation and how the makes up the larger part of the film. Co-directed by Jaspal Singh Sandhu and Rajeev Barnwal, Vadh explores the mindset of the Shambhunath and his wife Manju as they try to come to terms with this sudden event in their lives. The film title’s speaks of a honourable, almost justified killing, and that is what it delves into as characters grapple with right and wrong.

Vadh rests on the shoulders of Sanjay and Neena who wonderfully portray the anguish of disappointed parents. The couple really has no one to turn to but themselves and the veteran actors dutifully display that lived-in history of several decades. In the second half, with the strain of financial debt and the stress of the police at the doorstep, the two actors dive into the slight rift this event has caused in their stable marriage. While sleeping at night, Neena brushes off Sanjay’s hand, showing Manju’s minor panic at what her husband has become. Sanjay, on the other hand, goes from maintaining quiet dejection to an almost acceptance about his fate after his impulsive actions.

As the lecherous Prajapati, Saurabh fits the part as the immoral villain. Manav Vij plays Inspector Shakti Singh who grows suspicious of Shambhunath and makes some conclusions of his own. But they do not make the same impact as Sanjay and Neena who are more nuanced in their performances. Apart from the main couple, the rest of the characters fall into the cliched tropes by the screenplay, especially the ungrateful Guddu, who is rather one-note throughout. At one point, Shambunath laments, ‘Beti hoti toh phir baat hi kuch aur hoti (If we had a daughter, it would have been a different story)’, pushing it back into Baghban territory.

But the majority of the film seems out of a Hindi pulp novel in which a mild-mannered man is said to hide a shocking secret. Portions of the film do get a bit lurid, almost feeling as they are ripped from the news headlines, but it is never sensationalised too much. The audience is kept hanging, does Shambhunath get away with the ‘perfect’ murder? While the ending seems a little too neat, it serves the film up into its overall message with its justification for killing, for the right reasons. Sanjay and Neena salvage Vadh with their dignified performances.