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.