Badrinath Ki Dulhania Review: A Popcorn Social!

I want to marry her, announces a guy. It doesn’t matter if the girl feels the same way or not. Her parents want her married; it’s practically as good as a Yes. 

Badrinath Ki Dulhania’s intended sarcasm means to shatter the widespread sexist mindset — a boy is an asset and a girl is a liability — against the perpetual business of marriage correlating an ugly culture of demand and supply.

What director Shashank Khaitan does to address this discrimination more consciously is highlight the disparity of ass and ability by zooming in on closer to the telling bits of these pointless labels. 

Khaitan may adopt a facetious tone but has something relevant to say about entitled boys, ambitious girls, flawed fathers or how celebration coloured in compromise defeats its very purpose. 

As significant these aspirations are, Badrinath Ki Dulhania is also a rom-com about a good-for-nothing Jhansi boy and career-minded Kota girl beaming with an ensemble of talented actors guided by an ardent need to tick off all that is expected from the genre. So you have beautifully styled people hurling humour, stealing glances and auditioning for grooms at wedding functions, theme parks and hysterical mata ki chowkis. It’s all expectedly endearing and amusing. 

Things do get uncomfortably hostile in the latter half and it becomes hard to conjure sympathy for a boor hero or relate to his target’s empathy in the face of such rough treatment even after he shows remorse.

Khaitan’s need to sugarcoat every bitter pill by immediately inserting a comic interlude is to be blamed here, often diluting the impact of his social message. Sometimes the quirky touches work though. Like the small talk on oxygen cylinders between two patriarchal heads gathered to discuss a matrimonial proposal.

Constructing a romance between a ninny rascal and a smart-alecky charmer is a tricky one to pull off. There are times when Badrinath Ki Dulhania skips its empowerment ideals to digress into an extended state of Singapore-struck spree or soppy separation. 

At the end of the day, Badrinath Ki Dulhania is only a popcorn social. It is mild in its criticism, doesn’t entangle itself in too many heavy or deep debates and neatly tidies up all the problematic ends through simplistic, frothy solutions.

The coming-of-age of its titular hero from an entitled lout to flag bearer of feminism is farfetched but it’s a narrative that’s also the need of the hour. What will be truly radical though is to completely abandon the need for a romantic reunion. 

It helps then that Varun and Alia look so good together. Varun Dhawan’s portrayal of Badrinath is remarkably assured in its depiction of heart and hollowness; it registers despite the transfixing presence of Alia Bhatt. 

‘So light and yet fierce that she makes the story almost realistic,’ wrote Roger Ebert about Keira Knightley in his review of Pride and Prejudice. Alia’s performance as Vaidehi deserves to share this stunning description. Her Vaidehi is gentle yet headstrong and mature in ways Badri can only hope to be. 

By rendering her character as a picture of refined grace and magnanimity, Alia makes Varun’s turnaround seem emotional not enforced. She is Badrinath’s greatest asset and ability. Both the film and its leading man have the good sense to recognise that.   

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Super filmi week: Grace under fire!

Be it Oscars, Kareena Kapoor or Karan Johar, my super-filmi week is a study in grace for both the right and wrong reasons.

Monday

 

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My day began unusually early today to post a live commentary of the 89th edition of Oscars on rediff.

Whatever opinion one may reserve about Hollywood’s biggest party itself, there’s no ignoring its bombshell of a final act or what I like to call the Big Best Picture Bungle-up that’s bound to come up over and over.

It is bizarre to witness how quickly the tone transforms from predictability to perplexity when team La La Land, in the middle of giving their acceptance speeches, is rudely informed that presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway read out from the wrong envelope and the actual recipient of Best Film is Moonlight.

As unpleasant it all is, something heartening does spring out of the gaffe –extraordinary grace. La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz is the first to acknowledge the error and warmly embrace Moonlight director Barry Jenkins. Jenkins reciprocates in kind and goes on to give a speech he hadn’t planned. They could have all been very obvious in their displeasure but instead one side’s composure and another’s graciousness helped us enjoy the fulfilment of a ‘dream-come-true’ in more ways than one without any worry.

There’s another guy we must acknowledge and appreciate – the one who had to make sense and humour out of this nightmare – host Jimmy Kimmel. The TRPs may be on an all-time low but Kimmel’s ‘this is embarrassing but not end of the world’ position refused to allow the moment becoming as clumsy as the reality of it.

The show goes on, folks!

Tuesday

Success defined Rajendra Kumar’s popularity. They used to call him Jubilee Kumar after all. He chose his movies with care and had a good insight into the pulse of his audience. But I never knew the Mere Mehboob star could be such a dedicated method actor.

Watching an old interview of his, conducted two years before his demise in 1999, where Rajendra Kumar discusses the landmark films of his career, I realise there’s more to his achievement than super hits.

The man simply glowed up as he shared stories of his artistic endeavors and technical know-how, the commitment and passion it entailed along with a sincere appreciation for the contribution of his directors and co-stars.

Reminiscing about one of his earliest breakthroughs, the black and white love story Goonj Uthi Shehnai, directed by the legendary Vijay Bhatt and boasting of Ustad Bismillah Khan’s shehnai recital, the actor reveals how he would sit with ‘Khan Sahab’ during the recording, tape the music, make mental notes of his expressions, movement of eye, shoulder and fingers or the practical difference involved between playing a flute and shehnai. He even got the studio to make him a dummy shehnai, which he then used to rehearse in front of the mirror for hours.

This homework paid richly.

During a trial show of Goonj Uthi Shehnai, the actor nervously asked the maestro what he thought of his performance in the film. “Khan Sahab laughed and told me, ‘Arre bhai, aap to humein nazar hi nahi aaye. Hum toh apne aap ko dekhte rahe.’ I could not have asked for a greater compliment.”

Compelled by this interview, I look for a video of Goonj Uthi Shehnai. The movie may not have aged so well but its stirring shehnai and Rajendra Kumar’s soulful internalization of the one playing it lives on.

Wednesday

Often teen movies are about fitting in, cliques, heartaches and creating fashionable lingo or campus trends. The best ones are those that are sensitive to its protagonists in focus and acquaint us to their tender troubles most intimately, resisting the urge to label them.

Full of heart, humour and Hailee Steinfeld’s canny, energetic charisma, The Edge of Seventeen is about being a teenager and the self-doubt as well as possibilities that alternately hurt and heal.

Its fizzy and fabulous John Hughes aesthetic in underlining what matters and what does not goes a long way in turning The Edge of Seventeen into a movie that resonates whether you are or used to be a teenager.

Thursday

 

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Browsing through Kareena Kapoor Khan’s photos from an event, I make the mistake of reading the comments below. Pretty much every single one is an unflattering remark about her post-delivery body.

Looks are a big thing for movie stars. They want to appear sparkling at all times. No matter how long the flight is, how painful the stilettos, how uncomfortable a fabric, how glaring the camera flash, how temping the pizza, they do their best to look their best.

So when Kareena, the same Kareena who once turned size zero for a bikini ready frame in Tashan, shows up least bothered about her weight and exudes confidence and glamour whilst fulfilling her endorsement duties, it is a wonderful demonstration of empowerment for me.

Except those cruel jibes below bare the ugly face of misogyny. The Bollywood hero can never grow old. Only a few days back, there was a Govinda interview on the site and commentators gushed about the 53-year-old all rounder and his excellent comic timing. His talent supersedes the need to look young and charming all the time.

Why cannot they extend the same courtesy towards Bebo?

Friday

It’s one helluva action-packed Friday. Two trips to PVR, both action movies –only one is a cruel joke masquerading as cinema and another on its way to becoming a comic-book classic.

As I wrote in my Commando 2 review, “Unlike the 2013 Commando, which wisely focused on Vidyut Jammwal’s brawn and brawling skills to land a punch, comedian Deven Bhojani’s forgettable debut as feature film director confuses its crummy fickleness for a plot and, even more laughable, purpose. The upshot is bad, ridiculously bad.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Hugh Jackman’s brutal, brooding delivery in and as Logan lingers on long in my system. There’s violence that feels gratifying and sensational. But in Logan, it is urgent, turbulent and inescapable. A throbbing pain bleeds through its scenes and soul shattering the myths of superhero invincibility we’ve grown accustomed to and exhausted of.

Logan isn’t devoid of spectacle but without pandering to the blockbuster requisites that places industrial noise and mass-scale devastation above traumatizing conflict and profound ferocity.

Also, don’t remember the last time a superhero made me cry.

Saturday

Two action movies and some bad popcorn ensure Saturday is spent reeling from a nasty bout of food poisoning.

Bed-ridden, I take refuge in radio. It’s a Rahul Dev Burman tune. The song in question is Kaisi Lag Rahi Hoon Main from a Dharmendra-Rekha movie called Jhutha Sach. It’s a breezy, blissful melody; the kind RD never got wrong. Listening to it though, throws me in a slightly pensive mood.

It reminds me of a time when I was naïve enough to lap up everything silly happening in the movies. Mostly it led to much marvel and hilarity but, occasionally, to wishful thinking too.

In Jhutha Sach, Dharmendra dies in an accident and his wife Rekha finds a lookalike to pose as him for the benefit of their two kids.

Now this was a convenient Bollywood trope adopted in several films like Kasme Vaade to lend the narrative its quintessential twist. But as a kid who did not know better and lost her father under similar circumstances, I hoped for the same miracle.

Among the countless ideas I came up with, I also entertained the possibility of my mom finding my father’s clone and completing the family picture. In that brief time, it seemed like a reasonable request and comforting thought.

Had almost forgotten how soothing stupidity can be sometimes.

Sunday

 

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It’s nice to learn about filmmaker Karan Johar turning daddy to Yash and Roohi through surrogacy, especially after seeing how emotionally he spoke about his parental instincts kicking in.

Clearly though the brand new trend is how to outrage over celebrity newborns.

Be it AbRam, Taimur and now Johar juniors, it’s disturbing to see how as a society we’ve just lost the ability to feel happy for anyone unless there’s something for us in it. It’s like platforms that give us voice are turning us into wolves delighting in random criticism.

And to think my week began with the most touching display of grace!

This column was first published on rediff.com.

Previously:
More power to Anushka Sharma
Rishi Kapoor’s page-turning debut!
Picking Jedi skills from Amitabh Bachchan
Mera wala Shah Rukh
Ranbir-Ranveer, sigh sigh!
When Tabu struggled with a 500 rupee note
Of post-festival blues and toilet titles!
Finding links of life in Dhoni’s Ranchi and Madhuri’s Mujrim!
Inside Dharmendra-Hema’s intensely private world
Power of Pink
The irrepressible cuteness of Pooja Bhatt
Indradhanush was our Stranger Things
When Saif Ali Khan wore Rishi Kapoor’s sweater
Getting nostalgic about the 1980s, Winona Ryder & Kishore Kumar
Rediscovering Gulzar’s Ghalib & finding Free Love
Applauding NTR’s Superman on screen!
Tripping on A R Rahman
A millipede and Kimi Katkar’s monsoon romance
Udta Punjab, worst casting decisions, and naheeee…!
Of warring Khan bhakts and meeting Mogambo!
Ranbir’s forgotten romance in Bachna Ae Haseeno
Funnier than Aishwarya’s lips
Clashing superheroes and crying Khans
OCDing on Neetu Singh’s LPs!
Garam Dharam, Mantrik Origins, Rockstar Cruise

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Super filmi week: More power to Anushka Sharma!

Discovering what I love about Anushka Sharma’s ‘spirit’ on more than one occasion in my super-filmi week.

There used to be a time in Bollywood when even a popular actress would get all smug about a project simply because of the big star she was cast opposite and the number of songs she’d get to dance on.

Things have change significantly but the mindset hasn’t completely vanished. Some of our best leading ladies have appeared as pure eye candy sometime or the other.

And that’s what makes Anushka Sharma such a heartening presence in the film industry. Look at her career: even in a Patiala House or a Dil Dhadakne Do, where she’s not central to the story, her role has substance and a sparkling individuality.

Watching the trailer of her brand new offering as artist and co-producer, Phillauri only confirms the excitement she spawns.

Although the contents of the teaser remind me of I Married A Witch initially, a friend tips at The Corpse Bride, which I concede makes more sense. The Tim Burton animation about a man inadvertently slipping a ring on a dead girl’s finger is also inspired by Jewish folklore.

Déjà vu aside, Anushka’s sweet ‘n’ spooky turn around a plausibly petrified Suraj Sharma piqued my curiosity about Phillauri big time.

Tuesday
I am a huge fan of the dazzling contrasts Vishal Bhardwaj conjures through his compositions — idiosyncratic in their celebration or meditatively sublime.  But I cannot bring myself to care about his music in Rangoon.

There’s something so lazy and rehashed about its creativity.

The inadequacy is depressing.

Perhaps I’ll feel differently when experiencing them in context of the narrative.

At this point, I am just surprised at by how identical the droning bits of Bhardwaj’s Yeh Ishq Hai and Rahman’s Dil Se Re… sound.

Wednesday
There’s retro music playing on a Bollywood music channel.

There’s Anil Kapoor trying to win over Madhuri Dixit to the beats of Ek Do Teen in Tezaab, followed by Sunny Deol insisting on Meenakshi Seshadri confess her love for him in Ghayal‘s Pyaar Tum Mujhse Karti Ho and, finally, there’s Shah Rukh Khan looking for love while howling Koi Na Koi Chahiye in Deewana.

That they’re doing it publically, with a real-life crowd of star-struck onlookers, is what all the three songs share in common.

Happy, clueless, attentive faces, waving, gazing, pushing furiously through the swarm to catch a glimpse of their favourite or pop inside the frame — that single image sums up the magical impact of cinema on the common man better than any essay or book can. Too bad I don’t get to see it much any more.

Perhaps I could add it this to my fun piece on Things We No Longer See in Hindi Movies.

Thursday
It’s Amrita Singh’s birthday. 

To an entire generation, she’s either Arjun Kapoor/Tiger Shroff’s loud Punjabi mum or Saif Ali Khan’s ex-wife with whom she has two kids, a technicality that continues to serve as dramatic fodder for tabloid gossip.

Back in her heyday, she was rechristened ‘Mard Singh’ for her tough talk and physicality. Stereotyped in the slot of a boisterous belle in mindless action fare and hideous costumes, the underestimated and unexplored talent of Amrita Singh rarely got the chance to flex its comic chops or dramatic rigor.

Beyond the silky-haired, spoiled brat of Betaab, there’s so much to take away from her schoolgirl gusto in Chameli Ki Shaadi, her plucky girl-next-door believability in Saaheb, her attractive restraint in Sunny, her stunning sensitivity in Naam, her impressive show of authority and vulnerability in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, her gigantic, obsessive, scheming, insatiable ego in Aaina and her smooth grip of the master manipulator in Aurangzeb.

This is the Amrita Singh I know, like and celebrate.

Friday
It’s 9.30 am and I am at multiplex close home to catch the first show of Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB 2. What a delight this sequel is!

Adding to the fun is an equally responsive audience inside the hall, clapping and chuckling away to glory — right from the opening scene where Akshay Kumar makes an entry to openly facilitate cheating in exams to the hilarious last scene, which you are better off discovering on your own.

Like I wrote in my review I truly enjoyed, ‘the pungency at which Jolly LLB 2 scorns at the intense rot eating up a noble profession without compromising on the inherent rascality of its titular character.’

Juggling mainstream and meaningful is something Naseeruddin Shah did fabulously in his days as leading man. The year he did Jalwa is also the year he came out with Ijaazat. But it’s only now that this approach — to have the best of both worlds — is more prevalent than ever thanks to the likes of Aamir Khan (Dhoom and Dangal), Kareena Kapoor (Udta Punjab and Bajrangi Bhaijaan) and, quite clearly, Akshay Kumar (Airlift and Housefull 3).    

Saturday
Recently, some media outlets implied that boyfriend and Indian cricketer Virat Kohli has financed Phillauri, Anushka Sharma’s upcoming home production in collaboration with Fox Star India. Obviously, she didn’t take it lying down and retaliated with an explosive statement.

Mentally whistled at the bit where she writes: ‘And the next time these same people come wanting to talk about ‘women-empowerment’ and ‘women in films today’ do remember this is what you do to ‘women in films’ who are trying to change the narrative and take charge of their own careers.’

Atta girl!  

These double standards irk me no end. Our psyche is so regressive and thinly veiled. As if an actress acquires some sort of privileged, profitable quality or turns royalty just because she married into an affluent surname or dating a formidable figure. All the more ridiculous when she’s a megastar in her own right and independently raking in the big bucks.

More girls need to assert themselves like Anushka instead of clinging on to this silly notion of power couple.

Sunday
I love collecting all sorts of trivia.

And so it’s cool to note Holland’s famous Keukenhof Garden provided a tulip-filled backdrop to Rishi Kapoor singing Bhanwre Ne Khilaya Phool to Padmini Kolhapure in his dad Raj Kapoor’s Prem Rog as well to his niece Karisma Kapoor in a dream sequence of the Sunny Deol vehicle, Ajay, 14 years later.

Ajay, however, was such a ghastly movie, it’s no surprise no one cares or remembers it.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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