Badhaai Ho: Great writing, great performances always find their due

There are these films, that come every once in a while – when you’re watching them, you think, “oh god, I know this person”. That is the authenticity of Badhaai Ho. Director Amit Ravindernath Sharma seems to have literally picked characters from the streets of middle-class Delhi, thrown the writing of Shanatanu Srivastava, Akshat Ghildial and Jyoti Kapoor at them and has given them space to live it; it’s all that real!

The film deals with a 50-something couple, Jitender and Priyamvada Kaushik (Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta) who get pregnant by accident. They already have a son who’s of marriageable age (Nakul, played by Ayushmann Khurrana) another, probably ten years younger to Nakul, Gullar (played by Shardul Rana) and an ailing mother to look after. At first, you expect the couple to abort the child, owing to the fact that maybe Priyam’s age may not allow her to deliver the child and cause complications but she is adamant, “main bacha gira na sakun,” she insists. What follows is a family, and society trying to deal with the fact that an older couple can have a relationship beyond platonic ties and listening to old Hindi songs on the radio.

The writing, the writing! OH GOD! I think the latter half of 2018 is compensating for the former with such brilliant outbursts of cinema like Love Sonia, Manto, Andhadhun and now Badhaai Ho. For a film to be performed and executed well, it needs to be written well and Badhaai Ho is. There’s humour, there’s satire, there’s emotion, there’s everything. This film is one of the most watchable films of this year. Though the pace of the film does take a dip in the second half and the editing gets less crispier, but the overall writing is so great that you don’t even notice that the film has dropped in pace. And, moreover, the performances don’t make you feel so.

Amit Ravindernath Sharma’s characters are all authentic, and real. Neither Nakul, nor Renee (Sanya Malhotra), nor any other characters seem drawn. All of them seem to be written from inspirations from real life, especially, Dadi (Surekha Sikri). And it’s not just the characters – the setting, the props, the costume – none of it is artificial. If middle-class people repeat clothes from one wedding in another, you can see them doing that in the film. The Kaushik’s may be a middle-class family, but Renee and her mother (Sheeba Chaddha) aren’t, but still, their wardrobe doesn’t seem to be picked just one day before shoot. None of it it artifice.

And I can also say the same for the performances. Sanya Malhotra as Renee, a girlfriend left in confusion, a daughter so dedicated and a woman who knows her worth, is terrific. I cannot think of any mainstream heroine to bring to screen this normalcy of a Delhi girl. And the same for Khurrana. He is so convincing as Nakul that you forget anything and everything about Andhadhun. He makes you believe that he is the middle-class Delhi boy he’s supposed to play. At first, Nakul is lost, torn, humiliated by the fact that his mother is pregnant but then he goes through a transformation after one drunk encounter with another woman of his mother’s age. You see the switch, you see the revelation, but there isn’t a great, huge moment with him drinking and crying about it and that is the beauty of that moment. Gajraj Rao as the ‘guilty’ father will crack you up. Rao adjusts to his character like a chameleon to a tree truck, or a wall. It doesn’t make a difference. He’s really great with his comic timing and emotional sense.

But in Badhaai Ho, the women, Neena Gupta and Surekha Sikri, take the cake. These are women from different generations, from different sets of ideologies. When they share a scene, you can sense the tension moving up your spine. Gupta’s Priyam is lenient, loveable, Sikri’s Dadi is stern and unforgiving. She sits and sleeps in one corner of the house, cursing her daughter-in-law for becoming pregnant but calling her son a hero. It’s only towards the end that you realise that Dadi never meant any harm. Gupta’s moist-eyed dialogue delivery and the constant love on her face is admirable. Sikri’s comic timing is enviable. She’s also given the best lines. Together, these women prove that despite the fact that you (the society) blame the pregnancy on the woman, it is the women who lead this narrative.

Badhaai Ho is a social drama pointing towards two basic facts – sexual relationships are normal and that you can’t put the blame of a pregnancy on only the woman, and also that being pregnant is very normal, very natural. In one very cleverly written scene, a gay dancer is dancing at a wedding the expecting couple is attending and in just a brief moment, they wonder, will they too, like the gay man, be treated like outcasts, in fact why is even he an outcast?

The film also highlights the fact that small town mentality, and maybe even Indian mentality is tough to alter, aloof from progress. When Priyam and Jitender arrive in Meerut for a wedding, he says, “arey Meerut toh badla hi nahi,” to which someone replies, “arey bhaisahab, Meerut ko badalne ki zaroorat hai kya?”

All in all, Badhaai Ho is a film you should definitely watch. It doesn’t just point towards the stigma attached with sexual relationships but also tells us how stuck up we are as a country and how redundant our beliefs can sometimes be.

If I had to rate the film:

4 Stars

 

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