Khandaani Shafakhana movie review: Sonakshi Sinha is handed a lifeless sexual health clinic
turning in a performance that is as thoughtful as it can possibly be considering the flimsiness of the writing on offer and the lack of confidence in debutant Shilpi Dasgupta's direction.
castSonakshi Sinha, Varun Sharma, Badshah, Annu Kapoor, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Rajiv Gupta, Nadira Babbar, Rajesh Sharma, Priyansh Jora
An old man bequeaths his Unani sex clinic in Hoshiarpur to his young niece - imagine the potential of that premise.
Sonakshi Sinha plays Baby Bedi, a medical sales representative from a struggling lower middle class family who sees light at the end of the tunnel when a beloved relative, Hakeem Tarachand (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), leaves his business to her. The conditions of his will do give her pause: she has to run the clinic for six months before she can sell it, which leaves her with a double whammy to contend with. First, she is not a qualified Unani doctor. And second, the late Hakeemsaab's practice was frowned upon not just by society at large but also by her own family. Back-breaking debt, a mother (Nadira Babbar) and brother (Varun Sharma) who depend on her, and the possible loss of their home leave her with no choice though. And so begins her adventure.
The promise of this subject is multi-pronged - the agony of men, women and couples with sexual problems in a conservative community, the social squeamishness around sex, the restrictions placed on women, and a general unawareness about Unani medicine among a modern urban audience. If these had been tackled with depth, there is so much that Khandaani Shafakhana (Family Health Clinic) could have offered. Depth though is missing in this film that touches upon all these elements, but sinks its teeth into them only in fits and starts. It has its moments here and there. However, overall, although it is meant to be a comedy drama about sexual health, the comedy is occasionally on point but there is not enough of it, the social commentary is very occasionally insightful but not enough, and the drama is not dramatic enough.
The screenplay by Gautam Mehra lacks the life that Baby's medicines seek to inject into her patients. With such flaccid material at hand, a perfectly good cast is wasted. Sinha is talented but her earlier works have often been pulled down by her directors' and her own self consciousness about the shape of her large eyes, the curve of her nose and their combined effect on her profile. Here in Khandaani Shafakhana she controls that particular propensity and an intermittent tendency to play cute, turning in a performance that is as thoughtful as it can possibly be considering the flimsiness of the writing on offer and the under-confidence in debutant Shilpi Dasgupta's direction.
Fukrey's Varun Sharma is funny although his dialogue delivery sometimes needs clarity. Nadira Babbar manages to draw the most out of this thin story. And Annu Kapoor as the lawyer handling Hakeem Tarachand's will is amusing to begin with, but fizzles out in the face of repetitiveness.
These four fare best among the entire lot. Superstar rapper Badshah makes his acting debut as superstar rapper Gabru Ghatack in a poorly defined role that depends too much on his real-life personality for its effectiveness. Imagine the potential here too - a musician who is all the rage having to hide his sexual disorder from an audience that has bought into his macho image. Like everything else in Khandaani Shafakhana, he too is wasted.
The one who suffers the worst injustice at the hands of this film is TV's sweet-faced Priyansh Jora whose attractive personality makes you long for something substantial to happen to his character in the next scene, or the next scene, or the next...but it never does. As Baby's neighbour in the locality where her dispensary is located, we notice the good-looking guy as soon as we see him. So does she. But he is given almost nothing to do.
It would be unfair to say that there is no chemistry between Sinha and Jora, because the screenplay invests zero effort in their equation. He has a star quality and it is clear in the final song that he has at least one gift that will come in handy if he wants to be a conventional Bollywood hero - he can dance - but the camera ensures that there is not enough of him even in that closing number.
Where the film does strike a chord is with Mayur Sharma's production design of Baby's home of limited means, the look of the titular Khandaani Shafakhana (although the dense cobwebs were inexplicable considering that Hakeem Tarachand had not abandoned what was clearly a busy practice) and the milieu of the neighbourhood in which it is situated. The middling music, on the other hand, serves only to stretch a narrative that already feels too long despite the seemingly economical running time of 2 hours 17 minutes and 38 seconds.
Sexual health is not a theme often visited by Bollywood. In 2012, Shoojit Sircar pulled off a film about a sperm donor with immense maturity and sensitivity, neither of which took away from its comedy. What his Vicky Donor had going for it, apart from his own finesse and a great cast, was a great writer: Juhi Chaturvedi. RS Prasanna's Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017) - which also starred Vicky Donor's Ayushmann Khurrana, this time playing a man with erectile dysfunction - was entertaining though not quite as good. There is so much of this territory that could be further explored. To place a woman at the centre of a film about a Unani sex clinic in an orthodox small town was a stroke of brilliance on the part of the team of Khandaani Shafakhana. Beyond that, the best thing about this film is that it deals with a tricky subject without getting icky at any point. That apart, Khandaani Shafakhana is an opportunity lost.
Rating: 1.5 stars
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