Review with Mahwash: Badrinath ki Dulhania – problematic but works

Starring:

Alia Bhatt as Vaidehi Trivedi
Aakansha Singh as Kiran, Vaidehi’s sister
Varun Dhavan as Badrinath Bansal
Sahil Vaid as Somdev, Badrinath’s friend
Rituraj Singh as Bansal, Badrinath’s father
Yash Sinha as Aloknath Bansal, Badrinath’s brother
Gauhar Khan as Laxmi Shankar

Written and directed by Shashank Khaitan
Produced by Dharma Productions
Run Time: 150 mins

Spoilers ahead

In the second instalment of a franchise, by the same team that brought you Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania, Varun and Alia star in a modern romantic comedy drama that is changing the shape of formulaic cinema.

Alia Bhatt stars as Vaidehi, a girl from Kota who wants to be the son her parents never had. Varun stars as Badrinath, an entitled son from Jhansi who doesn’t have many aspirations – except not ending up like his older brother (who couldn’t marry the girl he wanted). Their fates collide in a wedding ceremony (a la Karan Johar) where they dance together and Badri decides he would marry Vaidehi. Vaidehi refuses – she had been hurt before by a man who she thought loved her but actually ran away with the money her father had been saving for her dowry.

Dowry is the motif that makes BKD a film with a critical message. India’s changing demographic, when it comes to women, translates onto the big screen as the audience whoops and claps as Vaidehi gives a comedic but stern talking to Badri in a scene on a public bus where he attempts to coax her into marrying him. Vaidehi eventually agrees because Badrinath helps her put together the lost funds for her sister’s marriage. But at the eve of the wedding, Vaidehi escapes. Because she couldn’t dream of living in Kota all her life being traded as a commodity.

Legislation against dowry exists in India. It was introduced in 1961 and has a five year jail term in case someone is found taking dowry. However, India is one of the top countries in the world (Pakistan is a part of this list and so is Bangladesh) where dowry related deaths are at their peak. Women are doused in petrol, poisoned or set on fire by ‘exploding’ ovens to punish them for not bringing enough dowry.

The acute emphasis on this problem in the film delivers itself from the obviously problematic motif of a serial harasser trying to achieve being married to a girl that is obviously out of his league. He physically assaults her, his father threatens to kill her just because she dumped him at the altar and in the first hour of the film it is extremely difficult to understand why a girl like Vaidehi would fall in love or even speak without outraging to a man who’s obviously got the restraint of a five year old and does not understand the word ‘no’. But this does not mean that BKD does not have its merits. It is simply that the film is mature and poignant in some places and damaging and dangerously apologetic at others.

The second half is where the film somewhat redeems itself. The climax also slightly makes up for the harasser-eventually-wins logic. At the end of it, what makes BKD a balanced film is the fact that it shows a win only when a woman is able to get her space. She makes no compromises about her strengths nor does she fall at the hero’s feet because of his romantic gestures. She lives with him not as his slave or subject but as his equal, and if possible as someone superior to him. If this is a film that is targeted to harassers, to eve-teasers, to any man entitled enough to think every woman, regardless of her achievements, is beneath his respect and does not deserve an equal chance at living life, it probably will make a strong impact with its end.

Varun and Alia make a strong pairing and deliver excellent performances. They are entertaining and heartening and Dhawan especially deserves applause for not making Badrinath as annoying as he may have seemed on paper. Alia’s portrayal of Vaidehi makes way for a new romantic heroine as she laughs and loves and dances and flirts – but is strong, independent. She is not coy or coquettish but sweet and intelligent about her love interest.

It’s a film you ought to watch with any men that you know – and any woman who thinks she has to say yes to the norms around her just because she isn’t strong enough.

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