Despite its undoubtedly excessive length, “Times of Betrayal” is a powerful thriller about terrorism in contemporary India. Om Puri’s vigorous performance as a cop working for an anti-terrorist unit who finds himself and his family under threat, is just one element in the success of this nail-biter. But the almost three-hour running time will prevent the otherwise sharp suspenser from finding a wide audience outside its home turf.
Puri, usually known for more ascetic roles, plays Abhay Singh, an expert in interrogation techniques who is assigned, along with his friend Abbas Lodhi (played by another top Indian actor, Naseerudin Shah), to head a secret unit within the police force with the aim of infiltrating a dangerous terrorist group. The politics of this group aren’t spelled out in the film, but since the action takes place in the north of the country, and it’s hinted the group is supported by a foreign power, local audiences will put two and two together.
Abhay and Abbas assign two young policemen to work undercover posing as terrorists. Three years later, one of the two is killed, while the other, Shiv, has become a deputy of the group, working for terrorist leader Bhadra. After terrorists attack a crowded marketplace with automatic weapons, killing many passers-by, the police order a number of arrests. Quite by chance, they capture Bhadra without realizing that he is the terrorist leader they’re after. In Abhay’s interrogation of Bhadra, power shifts and news of betrayal emerges, with fatal results.
There could be remake possibilities in this suspenseful yarn, which contains a great deal of violence. Govind Nihalani, who was director of photography as well as writer, producer and director of the film, has pulled few punches, creating a plotline filled with intrigue, though the occasional melodramatic passage, especially toward the end, makes the film less acceptable for Western audiences.
Above all, Nihalani has the intelligence to present a rounded picture of police corruption and bureaucracy so that the fanatical Bhadra, though not in the least a sympathetic character, is at least seen to have reasons for his violent opposition to the Establishment. As Bhadra, debuting actor Ashish Vidyarathi gives the character all the intelligence, fanaticism and charisma the role requires.
“Times of Betrayal,” which was made on a modest budget, has been a success in India and, despite its flaws, is one of the better films seen recently from that country.