By Shreehari H
It all begins with the recital of a poem. An aged railway ticket collector huddles up next to his wife with a book in hand, even as a storm breaks out outside their Lodhi Colony-based home, and launches into his rendition with great earnestness, trying to bring as much heft as he can with each pause and each slowly-rendered word. His partner is visibly captivated. The film then slowly pans to a rain-soaked window in their bedroom, and though we never really see the deed (one that is referred to as ‘Chaiya Chaiya’ by a not-so-subtle character later on), it is clear that this is a momentary lapse of discretion on their part. What follows is an unexpected baby bump and a most unprecedented return to motherhood.
Chaos, naturally, ensues. This is a setup ripe with situational humour, and director Amit Ravindernath Sharma gives us an incessantly funny laugh riot of a film with some crackling repartee between the many unwilling participants in this farce. “Mehman aane waala hai ghar hai. Chhota mehman,” a visibly embarrassed Jitender Kaushik (the father of the household, played by Gajraj Rao) explains to his stunned children, his drooped head and hunched shoulders an utter giveaway. When he finally musters the courage to break this news to his own mother, a cranky old woman with a rapier-sharp tongue (played by an excellent Surekha Sikri, who is hands down the best actor in the film) and the outburst that ensues makes for one of the film’s most hilarious scenes. With the most withering of glances, the matriarch of the household proceeds to take down her own son, one blistering dialogue after another, eventually ascribing her daughter-in-law’s frequent body aches to this very same act of overzealousness.
As a character in the film puts it, this family is a circus that no sane person would want to buy tickets to.
Ayushmann Khurrana – fresh from his career-defining turn in Andhadhun – plays Nakul, the eldest son of his parents who is completely bewildered by this bizarre turn of events, and Sanya Malhotra, his colleague and girlfriend (this time, the gobar-smeared clothes of Pataakha have been replaced by suaver denim ones). “Tu hi bataa yaar. Yeh bhi koi mommy papa karne ki cheez hai kya?” he asks her at one point with deadpan seriousness, spoiling what should otherwise have been a rather passionate moment – only to have a cushion hurled on to his head with vindictive force – and it’s hard not to guffaw.
Badhaai Ho functions as a portrait of middle-class Delhi – and, for the brief portions when Sanya appears on screen, its more opulent counterpart as well – and the film has an undeniably noble, well-intentioned message at its core. We also see parenthood through two different lenses – one wants to abort the unborn child so as to relieve his wife of such an onerous burden at her age, the other baulks at the mere suggestion of such an act – and how both collectively decide to bear the consequences of their choice, from sneering neighbours to snide, judgemental remarks. The film makes a case for how many of us have been conditioned to think in a certain way and questions what really constitutes the definition of socially acceptable behaviour.
One of the greatest ironies of our time is that it is sometimes the women in our society who reinforce existing notions of patriarchy, and this is best illustrated by the grandmother figure herself – this is a woman who abhors the fact that her daughter-in-law applies lipstick even at this age and later insists through fervent prayer that her yet-to-be-born grandkid should be a male . The characters are so hypocritical – one buys a condom after just having admonished his parents for indulging in the act, and another lectures on the importance of sanskaar without having deigned to so much as look after her mother all these years – they also become relatable by extension.
On the downside, the film follows mostly predictable beats even as it meanders on its way to a melodramatic climax. The closure comes a good twenty minutes or so later than it should have with a song (and an entirely unnecessary Malayali caricature) thrown in for good measure with slow-motion replays of a breakup to boot. The romantic angle in the story feels a little extraneous as well, and there is some overt product placement – from Manyavar to Godrej to Pregakem – and yet these are mostly minor quibbles in a film that scores by dint of sheer heart.
“Bahut hi simple, normal, genuine hai,” Nakul says by way of describing his parents, and the truth of this statement manifests itself repeatedly over the course of the film. When mother and son finally reconcile – as inevitably they must – the very first thing she does is enquire whether he has had his dinner. This is a tellingly authentic moment, one that many of us can personally attest to. As for the parents themselves, the mere suggestion of an elderly couple on the verge of retirement rediscovering what it must have felt like to be in the first throes of love is delightful in itself. Who are we to deny them what they want? Long live those who remain children at heart. Ayushmann bhava.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Shreehari H is a lover of films and an even greater lover of writing.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius