Badhaai Do: Sanitized look at homosexuality entertains

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Badhaai Do is a Valentine’s week story of a lavender marriage. Photo: Spice PR / Courtesy:Junglee Pictures

Aimed no doubt at as large an audience as possible, Badhaai Do, a sequel ‘in spirit’ to the path-breaking and superb Badhaai Ho (2018) by Junglee Pictures, talks about same-sex love in sanitized fashion. That is, it does not offer sequences that are too bold, or remarks that may be offensive to the general audiences.

Yes, barring the perennial risk of elders or decision makers watching or hearing about the film and forbidding family members to go to the movie-halls may remain, especially in conservative north Indian towns. But the makers (led by director-co-writer Harshvardhan Kulkarni, whose less bold Hunterr did not work in 2015) play it as safe as they can, while keeping the story pinned to Indian roots.

Purely as a family ‘dramedy’ therefore, Badhaai Do entertains, but one wishes that the script had been less convoluted and concise. As with Hunterr, the editing is languid. The cinematography and other technical values are alright, and songs humdrum. The background music (Hitesh Sonik) is cerebral but unremarkable.

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A bodybuilder inspector who is gay, Shardul (Rajkummar Rao) learns about a physical instructor, Suman (Bhumi Pednekar), who is also homosexual. They decide to enter into a loveless, virtually contractual marriage as they both are in same-sex relationships. Their respective families are after them to wed, and this is the best solution to mollify and please them.

However, the problems of being in an unconventional relationship and, above all, the expectations from the families of a child, soon begin to prey on their peace of mind. Both of them have a quirky “honeymoon” together (staying in separate rooms!). Soon, however, they both break up with their respective partners for reasons unconnected with the marriage.

The pressures for starting a family begin to mount and the couple even thinks of adoption, which in India is not permitted for the LGBTQs. Meanwhile, they find new and lasting relationships, Suman in the oriental-origin Rimjhim (Chum Darang) and Shardul in gay activist Devi (Gulshan Devaiah).

Mixed with all this are Shardul’s extended family’s domination and interference in their “married” life, the social implications of a policeman being what Shardul describes as a “Homocop, not Robocop!” and, when their sexual orientations are out in the open, their respective families’ expected revulsion as a reaction.

The script is enlivened by genuinely humorous situations—the sequence where Shardul’s mom forgets what she has to advise Suman, which she has crammed from a piece of paper on which her sister-in-law has made her take notes, Shardul’s junior cop seeing him indulgently with Suman in a park where the cops normally object to couples in amorous mood, or the scene on the terrace where Shardul confides in his inebriated brother-in-law (Shashi Bhushan), who is a doctor.

Such scenes are well-balanced with the dramatic and emotional sequences, like Suman breaking down in her father’s shop, or the way Shardul and Suman try to help each other when their secret is out.

Rajkummar Rao remains the only actor with a one-time arty image (like Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and the late Irrfan Khan) who shows immense variations in his performances and this film is no different. As Shardul, he portrays the challenges of being a homosexual brilliantly, and he is equally effective as the helpless man trying to appease his family in various aspects. Bhumi Pednekar again goes unconventional, does well, but does not rise above a certain standard level. This is not to blame her—her character is written that way.

Faring far better is her girlfriend Rimjhim (Chum Darang), who is delightfully natural and thus makes a lasting impression: a talent to watch indeed. Gulshan Devaiah is another asset, and among the family members, Sheeba Chadha as Shardul’s almost robotic mom is a complete marvel. Digging into a terrific role of a befuddled, dominated woman with deep-seated affection for her son, she towers above everyone.

Seema Pahwa as the dictatorial matriarch does well, but special marks go to three more actors: Shashi Bhushan as the doctor and Nitesh Pandey and Loveleen Mishra as Suman’s parents.

I hear that the LGBTQ community has taken objection to the film, claiming that it is inaccurate, poorly researched and full of stereotyping. Well, as a movie, it does drive home its important messages, and the only real issue for me is its long length. Crisp editing was the need of the hour in this story of a lavender marriage, which has been released in Valentine week.

Rating: ***1/2

Junglee Pictures’ Badhaai Do  Produced by: Vineet Jain Directed by: Harshvardhan Kulkarni  Written by: Harshvardhan Kulkarni, Suman Adhikary & Akshat Ghildial Music: Amit Trivedi, Khamosh Shah, Ankit Tiwari & Tanishk Bagchi  Starring: Rajkummar Rao, Bhumi Pednekar, Chum Darang, Sheeba Chaddha, Loveleen Mishra, Shashi Bhushan, Seema Pahwa, Deepak Arora, Nitesh Pandey, Piryanka Charan, Nutan Sinha, Archana Patel, Vyom Yadav & others

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