Badrinath Ki Dulhania movie review: It hurts to see Alia Bhatt in this dishonest film
Director: Shashank Khaitan
The expression “breaking new ground” acquires new meaning in Badrinath Ki Dulhania (BKD).
For one, in a film industry that has, over the years, reduced the number of female rape jokes it cracks, this one goes the other way and presents us with an extended joke on male rape.
I kid you not. Writer-director Shashank Khaitan appears to have bought into the widely prevalent notion that masculinity means the ability to ‘protect’ yourself, that no ‘real man’ would ever be the victim of sexual violence, and therefore, that the possibility of such violence is funny. And so, when a major male character in this film is almost raped, the incident is turned into the centerpiece of BKD’s humour.
Watching that passage made me sick to the stomach, especially because Khaitan’s insensitivity stems, in all likelihood, from actual ignorance, as I assume is the case with the audience in the hall where I watched this film, men and women who collapsed into a collective heap of laughter at the possibility of a man’s ‘lootthi izzat’.
Congratulations on scoring a goal, Mr Khaitan. In case you care enough though, do read up on male rape. It is a reality. It happens. It is not amusing.
This episode occurs in the second half of producer Karan Johar’s Badrinath Ki Dulhania starring Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan. It marks a low in a film replete with disturbing mixed messaging although it no doubt wants to be remembered as a feminist venture taking a strong stand against dowry and exhorting parents to free their daughters to follow their dreams.
On the face of it, BKD is indeed anti-patriarchal. Sadly though, it chooses to send out its message via a tricky tightrope walk. It is as if Khaitan made a note to himself as he wrote the script: make sure you please those darned feminists, but also make sure not to displease misogynists who dominate film audiences. The tragedy of this situation is that Khaitan, without question, does have a penchant for comedy, but chooses to use his talent irresponsibly.
Badrinath Ki Dulhania – a follow-up to the 2014 hit Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania with the same director, producer and lead artistes – is about a resident of Jhansi called Badrinath Bansal (Varun Dhawan) who works as a recovery agent in his father’s loan business. Badri’s brother Alok (Yash Sinha) was forced to abandon his girlfriend and bring home a bride of his autocratic, dowry-hungry dad’s choice. Badri does not want such misfortune to strike him, so when he falls for Vaidehi Trivedi (Alia Bhatt) from Kota, he takes his destiny into his own hands.
He assumes that Vaidehi would be filled with gratitude at receiving a marriage proposal from the handsome son of a wealthy family. What he does not bargain for is that this feisty young woman has a mind and plans of her own. The story so far is refreshingly different.
In fact, large parts of BKD’s opening hour are genuinely hilarious.
Bhatt is full of beans as always, Dhawan is on a roll, and the two play off each other well. Everyone and everything in the film are easy on the eye. Besides, even as the film begins to betray its illiberal core, the energy levels in the narrative are maintained by foot-tapping melodies and lively choreography in a string of lavish, Johar-style song-and-dance routines.
Since BKD asks to be taken seriously though, its desperate balancing act is even more glaring than it might otherwise have been. Badrinath is extremely violent towards Vaidehi. He is violent towards his closest buddy Somdev Mishra (Sahil Vaid). In both instances though, he makes it clear – as does the film – that he is not responsible for his behaviour. Poor helpless baby!
At every step of the way, care is taken to ensure – through dialogues and by means of Dhawan’s natural likeability – that Badri is never repulsive to us, however repugnant his actions ought to be. You see, he roughs up Vaidehi because he loves her, and he roughs up Som because that same love is turning him into a person even he does not like. He says so himself.
What is a bechara mard to do when he is in love, especially when the woman he loves betrays him?
Ah yes, let us not forget that last point: the script cleverly assigns one highly inconsiderate, asshole-ish (pardon my language) deed to smart, independent, talented, ambitious Vaidehi, so that any viewer getting uncomfortable with the position BKD takes on women’s rights is handed enough material to be able to offer this defence of Badri, “Par ladki ne bhi toh galti ki (what the girl did was wrong too).” You know the kind of remark we like to pass when we hear that a husband hit his wife? That kind.
This single deed by Vaidehi is also ammunition in the filmmaker’s hands for any viewer who is disturbed by BKD’s rose-tinted view of Badri’s vileness. “He is cho cute, yaar. Aur ladki ne bhi toh galti ki.”
And whaddyaknow, Vaidehi herself never outrightly condemns Badri’s violence, explaining her continuing kindness towards him in these words to a friend: “Kyunki galti hamari hai (because the fault is mine) and he alone is bearing the consequences.” She claims the galti is hers and seeks forgiveness again thereafter, and then again, that too in a setting where, in the real world, a young woman would very likely have lost her life.
It does not matter that the entire cast of Badrinath Ki Dulhania is charming, that the visuals are pretty, or that Aparshakti Khurana and Gauahar Khan once again make an impression in tiny roles. What matters is that BKD’s comical vein and presentation are carefully designed to lull us into not noticing its innate dishonesty and possible lack of awareness of harsh realities.
At the end of the day, that is what Badrinath Ki Dulhania is: a dishonest film, neither fully committed to the causes it apparently espouses nor to its own closeted conservatism.
“Thhoda mard bano (Be a man). Either teach her a lesson or let us leave this place,” Som exhorts Badri in the midst of the hero’s revenge spree against Vaidehi. Sweet Som, who we have begun to like by then and continue to like because he is just such a nice guy and Sahil Vaid is such a gifted actor. “Par ladki ne bhi toh galti ki,” did you say?
Like Som, Badrinath Ki Dulhania is not what it appears to be. It is sad to see an acclaimed, seemingly thinking actress like Alia Bhatt lend herself to the games this film plays.
PS: The credits list Bhatt after Dhawan, although they have equally important and substantial roles in the film. Just saying.