January 17, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Jaspal Singh Sandhu and Rajiv Barnwal
Hindi with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Gwalior, India, the dramatic film “Vadh” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A retired schoolteacher and his wife, who are in heavy financial debt to a loan-shark thug threatening to kill them, become in involved in the murder of the thug.
Culture Audience: “Vadh” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in crime dramas about murder cover-ups and don’t mind if the story is long-winded and disjointed.
“Vadh” has moments that can appeal to viewers interested in crime dramas, but the editing and storytellng for this overly long and tedious movie don’t quite come together in a cohesive way. The movie’s total running time is 170 minutes, when the story could have been told in a movie that is less than 120 minutes. Too many things about “Vadh” are repetitive. It’s also fairly easy to predict how the movie is going to end.
Written and directed by Jaspal Singh Sandhu and Rajiv Barnwal, “Vadh” (which means “slaughter” in Hindi) takes place in Gwalior, India, where retired schoolteacher Shambhunath Mishra (played by Sanjay Mishra) and his wife Manju Mishra (played by Neena Gupta) live quietly and modestly. Shambhunath and Manju have been married for 40 years, but trouble is brewing in this couple’s seemingly peaceful existence. Years ago, Shambhunath and Mishra borrowed a lot of money from a ruthless loan-shark thug named Prajapati Pandey (played by Saurabh Sachdeva), in order to send their only child Guddu (played by Diwakar Kumar) to college in the United States.
After graduating from college, Guddu decided to permanently reside in the U.S., where he lives with his wife and their baby daughter Erica. Guddu has a unnamed job where he earns enough money to easily pay back his parents for the college expenses, but Guddu doesn’t think of offering to repay his parents. Instead of being grateful to his parents, Guddu is arrogant and unappreciative.
Shambhunath and Manju are heartbroken that Guddu has a dismissive attitude toward them. Guddu also refuses to got to India visit his parents. In a video chat with Guddu (which Shambhunath and Manju have to do at an Internet cafe because they can’t afford Internet service at home), Guddu has this excuse for why he won’t visit his parents: “Do you know how expensive flights to India are?”
Meanwhile, Prajapati has gotten impatient with Shambhunath and Manju for taking years to pay off their debt to him. He starts making violent threats to the couple to demand payment in full, or else he says they will be tortured and killed. Fearing for their lives and desperate for money, Shambhunath and Manju beg Guddu to pay them back for some of the money that they spent on his college expenses. Guddu coldly refuses.
As already revealed in the “Vadh” trailer, after Prajapati assaults Shambhunath and does some other terrible things, Shambhunath brutally kills Prajapati. It’s a crime that Shambhunath and Manju cover up by dismembering the body and hiding everything. Shambhunath goes to the local police department and confesses to the crime, but the police deputy on duty—a buffoon named Sitaram Gadariya (played by Nadeem Khan)—doesn’t believe Shambhunath (who looks like a harmless old man) and doesn’t record the confession. Shambhunath goes home and thinks he’s gotten away with murder.
When chief police inspector Shakti Singh (played by Manav Vij) finds out about this confession, he’s infuriated and slaps Sitaram hard in the face. Inspector Singh then orders Sitaram to get Shambhunath back to the police station to record the confession. This time, Shambhunath denies knowing anything about Prajapat’s disappearance. And so begins a “cat and mouse” game between the police and the Mishra spouses.
One of the problems with “Vadh” is that the tone is so obvious in wanting the audience to root for Shambhunath and Manju. Therefore, every plot development seems too calculated to lead to a predictable conclusion. The acting in the movie also ranges from very good (Mishra gives a fairly credible performance) to mediocre (most of the cast) to downright awful (some of the cast members in supporting roles). The movie also tries to have some darkly comedic moments that just seem out of place with the rest of this grim story.
The scenes just drag on and on, with a lot of repetition. Inspector Singh is the type of generic police investigator that has been seen in countless other movies. Shambhunath and Manju made their problems worse, but they have a self-pitying attitude that gets very irritating after a while. “Vadh” tries to be a suspenseful film, but when the protagonists are presented from the beginning as elderly people who deserve sympathy just because they’re elderly and regardless of how many horrible things they do, there’s no suspense at all in how the movie is going to end.
Yash Raj Films released “Vadh” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 9, 2022.