Badrinath ki Dulhania quick review: Varun Dhawan steals your attention; Alia Bhatt a delight to watch
It's early Friday morning, and for what is supposed to be a working day, the suburban theatre at which I'm taking in the first day, first show of the Alia Bhatt-Varun Dhwan starrer Badrinath Ki Dulhania is oddly full.
I breezed in, expecting to be greeted by an empty auditorium where I'd have my pick of seats. Instead, I'm wedged in between a gang of kids who seem to be in their late teens. They look at me askance, and I suddenly realise I’m the oldest person in the room by far.
The kids in the theatre — I imagine their college classrooms are strikingly deserted this morning if they've showed up en masse for this film (as deserted as I expected the auditorium to be) — cheer on the trailers: Naam Shabana and Phillauri meet with their approval, which makes me think these films can look forward to as much of an audience as Badrinath ki Dulhania has clearly managed to.
Then the Dharma Productions logo comes on and we're off.
We start with a montage of Jhansi, where our hero Badrinath (Dhawan) lives with his parents — a rather feudal father (who uses chest pains and threats of a heart attack to control the family when his orders don't work), a quiet mother, a brother (who had to give up the girl he loved to marry the bride chosen for him by his father due to said heart attack) and sister-in-law.
Badri (his onscreen entry, as he poses for a photo to be shared for matrimonial matchmaking purposes, is greeted by loud cheers by the audience) is now of marriageable age; at a wedding, he meets Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt), a feisty lass who isn't smitten with the hero at first sight — as he clearly is.
And so begin Badri’s attempts to woo Vaidehi.
'Woo' here for him means sending a marriage proposal her way through his broker buddy, and their respective parents, while Vaidehi herself seems quite set on bagging a job and not a hubby.
Badri’s pursuit of her doesn't veer into very problematic territory (the penchant Bollywood has of romanticising stalking and harassment in the guise of ‘winning’ over a reluctant woman) mainly because the writing (by director Shashank Khaitan) and Varun Dhawan’s act, keep that part of the story more comical than intense.
Also, Vaidehi is never shown to be powerless, but clearly as Badri’s superior. After she initially turns Badri down, it is she who reaches out to him with a proposal — if he helps her elder sister find a suitable match, she’ll consider tying the knot with him.
As their friendship blossoms through the film’s first half, Alia and Varun are a delight to see in their respective roles. However, Dhawan clearly has the edge here. He channels a certain Salman Khan-like insouciance, a comic timing that has the audience laughing along with him, and a vulnerability that is very endearing. For all his flippancy towards life, he also has an ability to empathise that makes him something more than a good-looking, entitled guy.
To reveal more of the film's plot would be unfair. Suffice it to say that by the interval, a life-changing event has been wrought for the hitherto happy-go-lucky Badri.
A word here about Sahil Ved, who plays Badri’s friend and marriage broker Somdev (he is the proprietor of ChutkiMeinShaadi.com — a name that clearly hasn't run afoul of a leading real-life wedding portal, the way Runningshaadi.com did): his chemistry with Varun Dhawan is as enjoyable to watch, if not more, as Dhawan’s is with Alia.
The film which until the first half deals even with serious issues like the discrimination against the girl child, the dowry system and patriarchy with humour takes a heavier approach in the second, as Badri and Vaidehi navigate their shaky relationship. It isn't just about the two of them finding their own footing, it is also about them discovering who they each are, as individuals. Along the way, the narrative also manages to turn several gender stereotypes on their head.
While there are several obvious ones (including one scene in which Vaidehi saves Badri from being molested) the main one is this — we've seen so many movies where a man enables a woman to achieve her potential or to gain her goals, be it Chak De, Dangal, Pink or others. But in Badrinath ki Dulhania, it is a woman (Vaidehi) who enables a man (Badri) to grow, and become a better, egalitarian individual.
Varun Dhawan makes good use of the trajectory offered to him by the plot — and although his accent slips between small-town lad and Mumbai tapori from time to time, he delivers a very lovable protagonist.
But how much of the film’s good intentions will reach all sections in the audience, beyond the jolly, fun ride it offers to its very end, is uncertain. In one scene, when Badri puts an inebriated Vaidehi to bed, leaving her with a tender peck to the forehead when she wants him to stay close, a male member of the audience yelled out, "Arre, isko kuch nahi aata hai”.
The comment was greeted with loud hoots by other members of the audience. Perhaps it was meant to be funny, but that was the only moment during Badrinath’s run time that I found myself not laughing along.
Watch the trailer here: