Last night, my friends in Mumbai walked out of a more than half full theatre, with some people weeping in their seats, some unable to talk. Around the same time, when I was walking out of an almost empty theatre after having watched Badhaai Ho, I overheard a man tell another, and I quote, “yaar log unn logon pe movies kyun banate hain.” I live in small town India, and this is the very reality of our country. We can run away from it, glossy lives in big cities can ignore the existence of it, but this is the truth. Speaking of glossy lives, homosexuality is a sin in even the shiniest homes in Mumbai, or any other big city. Think of coming out to a Gujarati family in South Mumbai or a Punjabi grandmother in literally any part of Delhi.
Written by Suman Adhikary and Akshat Ghildial, and directed by Harshavardhan Kulkarni, Badhaai Do is a conversation on just that. Not “coming out” per se, but the struggles of merely existing as queer in a country bound by concrete ideas of religion, tradition, right and wrong. What is love? In most Indian households, love is making an arranged marriage work. In families where even choosing your heterosexual partner is almost a crime, imagine having to come out to them as whatever sexual orientation you may have.
Bhumi Pednekar is the star of the show. If you want to study growth in an actor, study her career.
Love is boundless, fluid. It’s beautiful, it’s messy and everything in between. It’s not just a bed of roses. And it’s the same for heterosexual and homosexual (I might use the word homosexual a lot in this review instead of talking about the entire LGBTQIA+ community, because that’s what the film talks about) couples. The definitions don’t change. In a very cute scene, when Rajkummar Rao’s Shardul asks Bhumi Pednekar’s Suman if her girlfriend is leaving, she says, “kyun jaegi? husband wife mein jhagde nahi hote kya?” Everything is only as normal as you want it to be. The messiness of love isn’t a heterosexual problem. It’s a universal one. That’s what Badhaai Do taps into. So when Sumi meets her lover for the first time, she has in her hand her father’s stool sample. And when Shardul meets his lover for the first time, he spits in his hand. It’s all “normal”, and could happen to anyone.
The idea is sheer genius, the treatment, even more so. Badhaai Ho is a film fighting for human rights. It has been written and directed as a film about lovers. That they’re homosexual is very secondary to the narrative of the film. In a scene, Suman says to her girlfriend, Rimjhim (played by a very nuanced Chum Darang) that homosexuality isn’t their life, it’s just a part of their lives. The dialogue mirrors what homosexuality is to the film – just a part of it. Otherwise this is a film about love. Of course, given the cultural scenario in India a film with homosexual characters becomes a film about homosexuality. So what we get is a film on existence, about being. When you look from the queer eye, it’s all about existence, like you would view a Bareilly Ki Barfi, or literally any other film.
The writing of Badhaai Do is very realistic. We’re in the middle of a lavender marriage, surrounded by nosy neighbours, relatives asking for a “good news” and homosexual lovers. Both Sumi and Shardul grow up in families that are regressive to look at, but they’re only regressive because they haven’t ventured out of their own thoughts. Even Sumi’s younger brother has a conventional, patriarchal take on things. But she knows better. She sees love between her ageing parents, and craves the same companionship. She knows she can pull off a marriage scam because “it’s not like there aren’t scams around us,” even in her own family. Shardul too has a similar family. Having said that, realistic sometimes becomes boring. All the supporting actors – Seema Pahwa, Sheeba Chadha and Loveleen Mishra among others – fall in the general small town stereotype. Years down the line will not be able to look back on Seema Pahwa from this film and Bareilly Ki Barfi and tell them apart. This doesn’t take away from her performance at all. All I’m saying is that these characters, in every small-town based film end up becoming the same. That is my only problem with Badhaai Do. That and the editing, which could’ve been crisper.
But what makes the writing of Badhaai Do even more endearing are the performances. I’ve always been in awe of Bhumi Pednekar and Rajkummar Rao. Both the actors bring on screen the anguish that their characters have, while not making it melancholic. Rao is an actor par excellence and with time he’s only proved that there’s nothing he cannot do. As Shardul, the “homo cop” as he likes to call himself, he’s perfectly cast. He shows his muscles when he needs to, cries, laughs, runs about – does everything so honestly. It’s great to see a gay man at the centre of a narrative and that gay man is not wrapped in floral shirts. As I pointed out earlier, “existence”, not flamboyance is the fight of this film.
I love Raj, I really do. But the star of the show here (for me) is Bhumi Pednekar. The way she delves into Sumi’s innocence, into her anger, search for companionship, idea of companionship, ideas of life, literally everything is very remarkable. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, if you want to study growth in an actor, study Bhumi Pednekar’s career. In Badhaai Do, she delivers with a certain rawness that makes this one of my favourite performances of her, and mind it, I’ve liked her in each of her films.
The messiness of love isn’t a heterosexual problem. It’s a universal one. That’s what Badhaai Do taps into.
For years now Hindi Cinema has seen films from the gaze of a heterosexual man. It took years for our industry to talk about even the heterosexual female gaze. In the last three months, we’ve had at least two films about the LGBTQIA+ community – Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui and now Badhaai Do. It’s remarkable to see writers and directors coming up with these stories, because these stories deserve an honest space in the Indian narrative. Badhaai Do tries to throw light on varying issues the LGBTQIA+ community deals with on a day-to-day basis, and it succeeds in most fronts. It has its heart in the right place, it sets the ball rolling, and it begins conversations that we’re often scared to have.
It’s my humble request, please wear a mask and go watch Badhaai Do in theatres near you. It’s very important that this film earns good money so that producers and even actors and writers can dare to tell daring stories. Trust me, this one needs to be heard…
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