Badrinath Ki Dulhania is a deeply problematic film; there's no easy way to say this
For a film that set out to be a strong voice against dowry, and encouraging parents to allow their daughters to pick career before marriage, Badrinath Ki Dulhania only ends up reinforcing patriarchy.
With films like Pink, Kahaani 2, Neerja and Dangal, 2016 was a year when Bollywood was unapologetically feminist. These films sensitized the viewer to gender equality while telling stories that were woven around sexual violence, bravery and realizing a long cherished dream. The much-maligned f-word seemed to have become Bollywood’s buzzword for the year. So much so, that an old-school producer grumbled to me that “Bollywood’s new favourite genre was feminist films”. Unfortunately, Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya takes Bollywood two steps back.
In the film, Alia Bhatt plays Vaidehi, an ambitious and driven girl from Kota. Varun Dhawan’s Badrinath Bansal is a 10th pass recovery agent in his father’s loan business. They meet-cute at a wedding. They do a jig. His best friend follows the girl around sneakily taking pictures of her. He proposes marriage. Only she isn’t interested. Vaidehi refuses to succumb to the notion that a girl’s only aim is to get married. She has dreams of flying (quite literally – she wants to become an air hostess). No matter how much Vaidehi refuses to marry him, Badri is unwilling to let her go.
This is a Bollywood romance, so obviously Badri will browbeat Vaidehi until her ‘no’ eventually turns into ‘yes’. Strike one for feminism. It’s 2017 and our heroine is still being chased, stalked and teased into succumbing to the hero’s many charms. It was a slippery slope thereafter.
Sample this: Vaidehi leaves Badri at the altar and runs away. His formidable father’s ego is so hurt he wants his son to hunt down Vaidehi. He wants her body to be hung at the entrance of their home so ‘people know what happens to girls who run away’. Badri tracks Vaidehi down to Singapore. Instead of maybe having a conversation with her, he kidnaps Vaidehi, stuffs her in the trunk of his car and drives around while she begs to be let out. It’s only when she mentions the cops that he lets her out. If you thought this should be enough to make feisty, independent Vaidehi haul Badri to the closest cop station and get him arrested, you couldn’t be more wrong. Instead she saves Badri by demurely telling the cop that it’s all a misunderstanding! After all, an adarsh bharatiya naari is supposed to downplay and cover up the mistakes of her man. So, what if that man abducted her.
Badri doesn’t stop here. He accosts guards at her workplace, gets drunk and creates a ruckus where she lives, slaps his best friend, beats up a man he sees Vaidehi laughing with and nearly strangles her. His excuse? Her love has made him this obnoxious person who gets violent at the drop of a hat. It’s all her fault.
By this point in the film, Vaidehi spends nights making rounds of the cop station because of Badri’s various antics and during the day she is training to be an air hostess. She is inches away from realizing the dream that she fought with her family for. Her manager warns her that their company doesn’t want its employees getting entangled with cops but Vaidehi doesn’t care. “Kyunki galti hamari hai (because the fault is mine)” is how she justifies not condemning Badri’s outrageous behavior.
If there are still any doubts about director Shashank Khaitan’s very skewed understanding of gender equality, there is a bizarre sequence where Badri is attacked by a group of masked men who grope and molest him. By the time Vaidehi comes to his rescue, the men have torn Badri’s t-shirt. In what is meant to be an empowering role reversal, she gives him her dupatta to cover himself. Only, this amuses both the actors and the audience. Sexual violence affects both sexes equally. There is nothing funny about sexual violence.
With lines about Jhansi being famous for its Queen or a man being a woman’s groom rather than her being his bride, there’s no doubt that Vaidehi and Badri set out to topple patriarchy. Only they’ve ended up resetting old and toxic moral standards for women.