Mumbai, 10 Mar 2017 15:33 IST
The director makes a simplistic albeit relatively entertaining film with a message on taking down patriarchy and the importance of gender equality.
Director Shashank Khaitan attempts to make a romantic comedy set in small-town India based on the pertinent issue of gender inequality in our country. A mainstream film speaking of feminism is always welcome. It is a great idea to weave these issues that plague small-town India and the rest of the country in different ways — emphasizing a woman's right to choose.
Khaitan raises many points simultaneously. Why can't a young woman choose what she wants to do with her life? Why is there constant pressure on her to get married? Why should a woman have to choose between marriage and career? Why is dowry still weighing down the fathers of daughters? Why do men continue to suppress the other sex?
Khaitan delves into these subjects in a simplistic manner, even explaining it in accounting terms — boys = asset and girls = liability. After the gender roles are defined, the director ventures into a story that tries to show how these moulds can be broken. He is clear from the beginning that he is making a film for the masses, using comedy at regular intervals to keep you enthused. The attempt is to make an entertaining film with a message. While Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania was the love story of a small-town couple, Badrinath Ki Dulhania is the story of a man who, through his narration (voiceover), explains his journey from chauvinist to feminist, thanks to his lady love.
Khaitan's attempt is to tell a story that an average Indian will relate to and not to make a masterpiece. And yes, Badrinath Ki Dulhania is far from a masterpiece and stops just short of getting didactic a few times. But an innovative screenplay and dialogues make up for the shortcomings in the script, written by Khaitan himself.
The story is set in Jhansi and its relevance is that it gets used in the climax in a dialogue for dramatic effect, saying that one forgets that the city was ruled by a queen and not a king.
Badrinath Bansal (Varun Dhawan), a rich Jhansi lad, hasn't studied beyond 10th grade but thinks he is the most eligible bachelor in town. He has never had a girlfriend and his tyrannical father had forced his elder brother (Yash Sinha) to break up with his girlfriend and get married to a girl of the father's choice. His mother has no voice in the decisions of the family. Badrinath is conditioned to believe that when he marries, his wife would sit at home and give birth to his babies.
He meets Vaidehi Trivedi (Alia Bhatt), who is more interested in building her career at that point, at a wedding and decides he wants to marry her, sending a marriage proposal to her family even after she clearly states that she is not interested in getting married. He can't accept rejection and follows her into a bus trying to know why she doesn't want to marry him.
This scene, in particular, is very interesting where Vaidehi explains that she doesn't want to marry him because they are not a good match. She asks Badrinath questions like the full forms of IIT and ABS and the difference between simple and compound interest, leaving him flummoxed.
Vaidehi's father is weighed down by the fact that both his daughters are unmarried. While Vaidehi's elder sister chooses to marry, Vaidehi wants to focus on finding a job. Vaidehi is forced to choose between career and marriage as she isn't sure if Badri is the right partner for her and whether her parents understand her choices.
Bhatt's character is not overly fiery but that of just a regular girl who is not willing to bow down to societal norms that restrict her from making her choices. And it works because she is not too complex.
The climax is a little extra dramatic, where a drunk Badrinath gets on stage, confronting his father and questioning his patriarchal mindset. He disses dowry and the obsession with a male child. He also asks Vaidehi's father to hold his head high, as his daughter was making him proud with her work.
Dhawan is likeable as Badrinath, but the actor's performance could have been better if he had dialled it down a notch. He overuses the innocent charm that his character naturally lends itself to. His character has an amazing graph and more depth than Vaidehi who is independent from the outset. But Dhawan needs to learn that he can entertain without going overboard.
That is where Bhatt comes in. She performs her part ably, often upstaging her fellow artistes, especially in emotional scenes. She is top notch in scenes where she speaks on the phone with her estranged mother and sister.
Dhawan and Bhatt's chemistry is amazing, as expected. The two are extremely comfortable and make many scenes more watchable because of the way they play off each other.
A few other scenes stand out, including the one where Vaidehi tells Badrinath that while he has the guts to drag her to Jhansi and kill her in front of everyone or get hanged by the police, he doesn't have the guts to tell his own father that he wants his wife to work and that he supports her decision. Bhatt does a brilliant job in making that scene impactful.
The supporting cast is also effective, especially Sahil Vaid, who plays the hero's best friend aka comic relief.
The music of this film is quite ordinary and doesn't do much to enhance the film. The pace dips in the second half when it begins to show the important transition of Badri's character as he begins to see how patriarchal mindsets have affected women around him, especially the one he loves with all his heart.
The ending is too convenient. A drunken speech is not enough to change the deep-rooted patriarchal mindset, and though there is a problem with that I am also happy to see that it sets an example for the youth — that they need to stand up and raise their voices against it and live their lives on their own terms.
Badrinath Ki Dulhania is an average romcom, at times too loud and clear about its message, and it probably isn't the best way to tell a story about feminism. But what works for the film is that it is relevant while being fairly entertaining. Plus, it puts respect over love. The film is socially conscious and should also be lauded for discussing why feminism needs more men to speak out.
It also offers a few pointers on new-age India where there is a constant tussle between modernity and conservatism. The character of Badrinath is a perfect example of how both these values can be accommodated into creating an equal society.
While sexist and regressive entertainers like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai influenced the youngsters of the 1990s, it is good to see a romcom offer progressive protagonists that the youth of today can look up to and root for within the mainstream. Made at a time when feminism is misunderstood by many, if the film manages to get through to even a few regular moviegoers from its target youth audience or even the older ones, it would achieve what it probably sets out to do. Yes, even if it is done in a broad and simplistic manner.