Following the success of Humpty Sharma
's wedding, Shashank Khaitan brings us another (unrelated) installment in the "Ki Dulhaniya" series - a rocky ride which teeters between feminism and misogyny, using not-so-subtle social satire and humour. So fasten your seatbelts and brace yourselves - it's time for Badrinath to get married.
We drop into the Bansal household, right in the middle of Jhansi, and are introduced to Mr. Bansal (Sr.). A man with patriarchal notions firmly rooted in his psyche, Mr. Bansal sees women as little more than serving carts bearing tea and snacks - he could well be the founder of the tasteless, sexist line of "go back to the kitchen and make me a sandwich" jokes.
His two sons, Badri (Varun Dhawan) and his bhaiyya, have an unfortunate medical condition. Their vocal cords and spines mysteriously cease to exist in the presence of their oxygen cylinder-toting father, despite their being afforded the decency of being treated like actual human beings by him.
We meet Vaidehi Trivedi (Alia Bhatt) soon after, a character in sharp contrast to Badri, the man-child who thinks he is God's gift to women. Vaidehi wants to shoot for the stars, and displays absolutely no interest in settling down as someone's wife - so of course, staying true to the proclivity of Bollywood heroes to decide that a woman's rejection must mean that she is totally interested, he vows to make her his bride, and woos her by stalking and harassing her.
The first half is fairly light-hearted - humorous without resorting to lame clichés. Vaidehi and Badri flirt and bond while trying to set her sister up with an eligible bachelor, and Vaidehi is charmed by Badri's innocence and his good heart (as good as it could be after being subjected to the toxic masculinity of his father, that is). She ultimately succumbs to family pressure and agrees to marry Badri.
But come the day of the wedding, we see a refreshing deviance from the usual Hindi film spiel in which the ambitious, career-driven woman folds the moment the man reveals his hand of tradition, regressive family values and patriarchy, topped by the trump card of love - Vaidehi decides to take her destiny into her own henna-coated hands and pulls a classic runaway bride.
It is a testament to the talent of Varun Dhawan that we feel sorry for him whilst simultaneously cheering Vaidehi for her courage. He plays his part with a genuineness that doesn't overplay his character's childlike innocence and sweetness or his annoying cockiness. Alia Bhatt excels as always; her portrayal of the feisty and brave young girl is real and believable. Sahil Vaid also does a great job at playing Badri's sidekick, the best friend aka the comic-relief character, Somdev Mishra.
The film plummets a bit after the intermission, stomping out the embers of the message it is gradually trying to convey. Papa Bansal, enraged by the perceived humiliation of his family, decides that the only way to salvage his reputation is to publicly murder Vaidehi. In his world, being known as a kidnapper and murderer is still a good legacy to leave.
He provokes Badri to commit the crimes, and we are treated to 45 minutes of Badri acting like a psychopath by throwing girls into car trunks and beating up innocent bystanders, in the backdrop of Singapore. Vaidehi, astoundingly, acts like she deserves it - her argument being that she hurt him first. Newsflash: Getting left at the altar is not a free pass to turn into Jack The Ripper.
There is also a disturbing point in the narrative - an incident of attempted male rape is turned into crude and feeble fodder for humour. In a film that is ostentatious in its socially relevant message, it is horrifying that a man being assaulted is casually turned into a joke about his (supposed lack of) masculinity.
Thankfully, the movie redeems itself in the last quarter. Badri develops a sense of pride over Vaidehi's achievements, and begins to question his ideals and see the error in his and his family's ways. The final showdown, while predictable, is immensely satisfying to watch.
The characters are well-written; their flaws make them relatable and balance their other larger-than-life traits. The chemistry and the banter between Dhawan and Bhatt keep the romance alive, and certain moments of candid honesty as their characters grow and begin to respect each other make you shed a tear.
The songs are quite generic, and the remake of a hit '90s song hurts the eardrums. However, Arijit Singh's soulful crooning of Roke Na Ruke Naina steals the show. The film has beautiful visuals, and juxtaposing the dusty beauty and tradition of Jhansi's architecture against the contemporary, bright and shiny development of Singapore is pretty symbolic.
Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya is a fun watch for kids and adults alike. It is nice to watch a film that promotes the concept that mere love is never enough, and that it is friendship, mutual respect and support for each other's choices that make for a happy marriage.