With a plot that is terribly contrived and pretentious, Bawaal is set in present-day Lucknow. Centering around our protagonist, Ajay Dixit aka Ajju Bhaiya (Varun Dhawan), a jugaadu teacher and a pathological liar, he suffers from an inferiority complex. Coming from a middle-class background, his only interest is in creating a grand reputation for himself and even goes miles to retain it. His life takes a dramatic turn when he marries Nisha (Janhvi Kapoor) a well-travelled topper who suffers from epilepsy even though the fact was disclosed before marriage. However, a seizure on her Bidaai turns all the tables and she is unfortunately confined to the walls of their home due to Ajju's concerns about her disease tarnishing his image.
To enhance his carefully-constructed image and to come out of the mess (temporary suspension) that he has created by slapping an MLA’s son, Ajju Bhaiya plans an educational Europe tour to highlight the cause and effects of World War 2, thereby educating his students live from the field. From here onwards, Bawaal takes a different route altogether as the couple begin their tour of Paris, Normandy, Amsterdam, Berlin and Auschwitz. Continuing his ramblings on video, Ajju keeps on sharing his new found gyaan with his students about the perils of war and lying leaders like Hitler who misled an entire country and killed millions, and the students seem to learn a lot from his ramblings. As the unspeakable horrors of war continue, their personal relationship starts shaping up behind the reality and tragedy of War and there is a gradual shift in their relationship.
When they visit the concentration camp in Auschwitz, they imagine themselves suffocated inside the gas chambers and Nisha gets an epileptic fit. It is now unto Ajju to accept the reality and help her, and he does so without the least care of his image. But didn’t he already pronounce that it wouldn’t matter to him if she gets a fit as no one in Europe knows him? But wait! What started as a chapter on the WW2 European adventure is more on the coming-of-age of this totally unempathetic male chauvinist, who transforms into this loving and understanding partner overnight. Yes, he now has a change of heart and is ready to drop a merci (thanks) to save their toxic marriage. Alas!!
In a world of Excellent v/s Average cinema, Bawaal is a reminder of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Borrowing an idea perhaps from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List or other western films that have pulled this sort of stunt before with history, is good. But it is just a pity that the film ends up using one of the violent chapters of history into saving a dysfunctional marriage that unnecessarily drags the holocaust into it. While the Tiwari's and their writing team have expertly woven the historical World War II scenes and locations into the plot, this movie not only suffers with pacing issues but starts dragging after a while. Though it has a good start, it was incredibly tone deaf in certain moments, the most being when a holocaust survivor is talking about Auschwitz and the couple somehow relate that to their own marriage. The biggest problem is why would a history teacher use world history to supposedly make a point as he has almost been shown to be too tone deaf to have that sort of taste.
In short, Bawaal is a well-crafted experiment, but unfortunately lacks the steam to be considered as one of the brightest films on WW II. Initially slated for a theatrical release, it’s no wonder that the makers opted for the safest option and released it on OTT to minimize their risk. In fact, a lot more was expected from the talented Nitesh Tiwari who wrote and directed Dangal, and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari who made Bareilly Ki Barfi. Though the duo and their other writers tried to force us to see their point through Ajju’s dialogue 'that the idea is revolutionary and it definitely needs an open mind to view it' (Idea thoda krantikari hai, thoda open mind se sun na), the movie however, not only falls short of expectations, but turns out to be just an average watch.
Just like Varun Dhawan’s Ajju says, Maahaul aisa banao, ki logon ko maahaul yaad rahe, result nahi..., Tiwari and team surely managed to create the Maahaul with the teaser but the audience is sure to forget about the film. In a world that is often filled with darkness, Bawaal may be a pointer that love can conquer all. But then, who wants to remember a Bematlab ka Bawaal!