Mumbai, 02 Aug 2019 9:00 IST
Muddled writing and an unhurried pace don't help this small-town film set in Hoshiarpur, Punjab.
Khandaani Shafakhana, the directorial debut of Shilpi Dasgupta, wants its audience to be comfortable talking about sex. Unfortunately, it takes its time getting to the point and when it does get going it is too late to save this comedic drama.
Baby Bedi (Sonakshi Sinha), an ambitious medical sales representative living in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, inherits an old-fashioned sex clinic after her uncle (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) dies. According to the terms of the will, she has to keep the clinic functioning for six months and then she can sell the property. If she doesn't keep up to the rules, the property goes back in the hands of an institute and research centre.
The eldest in her family, Baby has to contend with another uncle (her father's brother) who wants usurp the house they live in. She takes care of her widowed mother (Nadira Babbar) and younger brother Bhooshit (Varun Sharma). Once upon a time, she shared a close relationship with her Mamaji (Kharbanda) before her mother deemed it inappropriate for a little girl to spend her time in a sex clinic.
While she is actually looking to sell the clinic, Baby takes up the reins at the 'khandaani shafakhana' and her uncle's old clients. She finds some strange characters but eventually helps them all as she settles into her new role. However, hysterical neighbours and relatives find issue with a young woman manning a sex clinic and try to bring her down.
Sinha does a fine job with what she is given, which isn't much. In the first half, Baby is sullen but later moves to being committed to her cause. She adopts a method of 'baat toh karo [let's talk about it]' about issues of sexual disorders and enlists help from her uncle's clients. One of them is a Punjabi pop star named Gabru Ghatack (Badshah in his debut role). Gabru is a hoot initially but ends up being a cliché by the end of the film.
The main problem of Dasgupta's film is the muddled writing by Gautam Mehra. The film is unsure of what it wants to be. Should it be a comedy or a drama? A social film or a family film? While it settles for something in between, it becomes tedious and the film's star can't save it on the strength of her character alone.
The film's Punjab setting is its plus point. From the small bylanes of the market to the dusty clinic, the milieu is established early on, but too many eccentric characters fight for space on screen. Annu Kapoor is a lawyer handling Mamaji's estate and insists on speaking in heavy-handed English. At least it wasn't French like Kapoor's character in Missing (2018).
Badshah is the perfect choice for an over-the-top music star, his wardrobe becoming more elaborate as the film progresses. Sinha's romantic interest (Priyansh Jora, also being introduced) doesn't even get a character name; he is only listed as 'Lemon Hero'. Sharma does his regular schtick as the comedic sidekick.
The film had a fantastic soundtrack that is mostly relegated to the background, and in the case of 'Koka', to the end credits. Khandaani Shafakhana seemed like it had hopes of being another Vicky Donor (2012), which also had actor Annu Kapoor. But Dasgupta's film tangles its message and leaves us wondering what could have been, with a determined lead female character at hand. This one is a missed opportunity.
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