Badrinath Ki Dulhania Review (No Spoilers): Badrinath Ki Dowry more than Ki Dulhania

Well, here it is, after midnight, and I have my sun lamp on to try to trick myself into thinking it isn’t after midnight.  I just want to go to bed!  But no!  First, I must give all you nice people an indication of whether Badrinath is worth rushing out to see.

I sincerely think that Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania is one of the most important films of the past few years (which is why I wrote two posts about it).  It showed that you could make a rom-com based on characters and relationships and a natural bond between a couple.  And it could be fun and romantic and serious and comic all at the same time.  And, as is the job of a really really good rom-com, it could also stand as a marker for the current state of gender relations in Indian society and where it is going from here.

Badrinath is a worthy heir to Humpty.  Not a replacement, and not an improvement, but not an embarrassment.  In some indefinable way, I found Alia and Varun a little less complicated together as a couple, their chemistry slightly less vibrant.  And the social message felt a WHOLE LOT more obvious this time around.

Mostly I think it’s just that it is the second one.  Alia and Varun didn’t have to work as hard as actors to sell their chemistry, and the script didn’t have to work as hard to make us believe in them, because we’d already seen them together in another film.  And the few other rough spots (notably, the ending) could be explained just by the fact that Shashank Khaitan had his whole life to come up with and perfect Humpty Sharma, and he only had 2 and a half years to perfect this movie.

Image result for humpty sharma ki dulhania

(Look at them together!  So much more, I don’t know what, but there was more of it!)

The social message went way way more front and center in this one than in the last one.  I am of the mindset that every good romantic movie is in its essence a feminist movie.  Because part of what makes a good romantic movie is that the man and woman meet in the middle as equals, which is pretty much exactly what feminism is about.  The last one was a really really good romantic movie, which meant by the end it had about 16 different angles through a whole variety of characters and scenes on what it meant to be a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, a son, a brother, basically every possibly relationship.  And there was no big obvious point to them all, it was just making us confront our own issues, our assumptions, our prejudices.  Everything from what we think about a boy who flirts with everyone, to a man who wants his daughter to have an arranged marriage, even to what makes someone gay or straight.

But this one just had one social point: Dowry.

That’s not a spoiler, the whole film opens with a big disclaimer that dowry is illegal, and wrong.  And not only is it displayed on screen, there is an English voice over for it too, to make sure you really really can’t miss it.

And it really does go over dowry in a million different ways.  From the bride and groom’s family’s side, of course.  But also the groom who is kept unmarried older and older because his father refuses to lower their “price”.   The bride who doesn’t want dowry given with her but cannot stop her father from doing it.  Even the moneylender whose payoff relies on the groom receiving the dowry he is planning on.

I’d knew before about the whole “sweets for a boy, nothing to celebrate a girl” phenomenon.  But I hadn’t put it together until this movie how closely that is related to dowry, at least in the dowry heavy areas.  The minute the baby is born, a good father of a daughter would start saving up for her dowry.  Every spare penny over years of deprivation set aside in the hopes that, 18-20-22 years later, it would make a payout grand enough to ensure her happiness.

(Have I mentioned that Breakthough has THE BEST youtube videos?)

And, in contrast, the father of a son lives the good life.  Money goes in, and immediately goes out again.  Not only do they not need to save for dowry, they don’t need to save for retirement, the son will always take care of them.  Better yet, they can start planning their business and personal finances around receiving a major cash payment in about 22-24-25 years.  That moment at the wedding or the first meeting when there is a dramatic declaration by the bride or groom about dowry, that’s not the moment when the change has to happen.  It has to happen way way way way way back when the baby is born.  The father of the son has to start saving up his own nest egg, so his son isn’t responsible for earning it (either through labor, or marriage).  And the father of a daughter has to start relaxing a little, spending that money on education, on treats, on creating a pleasant childhood for their child, instead of showing by daily deprivation how a daughter is a burden to them.

All of that was done very very well.  Showing how this dowry system is at the root of every moment of a boy and girl’s life, not just the moment when engagements first start to be talked of.  The boys are lazy, uneducated, with no real skills, because their parents feel no need to make them do anything but simply be boys.  And the girls are over-educated, over ready for the world, and yet never allowed to be in the world, their value only recognized in that brief moment when the other family looks at their bio-data.

It was a fascinating case study, but it made for an itty-bitty bit of a less interesting film.  Still a really good movie, don’t get me wrong.  And it’s probably too much to expect another Humpty, where the message and characters and story are inter-mingled so perfectly.  But this one, sometimes it felt like maybe the destiny of the characters was being controlled more by the message than by their internal sensibilities.

Immediately post interval, there are some very hard to watch scenes, and hard to get past.  The movie makes it work, at least for me, and I still believe in the romance.  But I could also see how those scenes could be too difficult for other audience members, who just couldn’t get past them.  Which is a big risk the filmmakers took.  And what I had the hardest time with was how out of character they felt, based on everything we previously knew.  It is just barely within the range of what I could believe this particular character to do, at the far far range.  But I would have preferred it the film went a different way, both to avoid these difficult scenes and because it would have felt more true to the character.  Only then the message would not have been so blatant to the audience, so the character had to bow to message.

Blech, I sound like one of those terrible people who are always saying “I just don’t see why I have to have a message shoved in my face, why can’t they just cast white people on TV shows?”  Honestly, I don’t mind the message!  I’m happy with it.  If this couldn’t be a totally brilliant film, then I would rather it be a less-than-brilliant film with a really great message.

I wonder if that was a conscious decision?  If at some point in the production process they saw that it would be easier to build this movie around a central message than around central characters?  I kind of hope it was.

Because if this film succeeds (and early reports are good).  And if that means it turns into a franchise with a different couple in a different region every few years.  Then I want the regions to be not just about an accent or a costume, but about really digging into the central problems of the area.  Why not use that as a jumping off point for the story?  Why not make the next film about, say, an interreligious couple in Kashmir?  Or a Communist falling for the daughter of a Congress politician in Kerala?  Why not really deal with every aspect and area of India and make the medicine go down with some nice shirtless scenes and pretty lehengas?

Image result for varun dhawan shirtless

(Seriously, 1 minute into his introductory scene, and Varun is ripping his shirt off for no reason at all)

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6 thoughts on “Badrinath Ki Dulhania Review (No Spoilers): Badrinath Ki Dowry more than Ki Dulhania

  1. I really loved Badrinath Ki Dulhania! But I think your’re right in saying that Humpty Sharma was a better movie overall. I liked the content of Badrinath more than Humpty Sharma, but I think Humpty Sharma was better executed. But still, Badrinath was really really good in my opinion! I’m really eager to see what Shashank Khaitan is going to come up with for the third part! Badri is doing pretty well so I’m sure that there will at least be a third part to the franchise 🙂

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  2. I can’t wait to see this on Monday! I’m really interested to see how the dowry message is handled. I like the idea of social issues served with a spoonful of sugar, to help them go down a bit easier. Was it more successful in its execution than Dawaat-e-Ishq? I enjoyed that film but I think that was definitely based more on the chemistry and charisma of the leads than the effectiveness of the message. It sounds like this one goes a bit deeper, darker and, probably, more interesting.

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    • Still haven’t seen Dawaat-e-Ishq! So i have no comparison. But this one definitely goes very deep, and also broad. Shows you how the entire society relies on this hidden economy of buying and selling your children.

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  3. Pingback: Badrinath Ki Dulhania Review (SPOILERS): 4 Things That Bother Other People, and 1 Thing That Bothers Me – dontcallitbollywood

  4. I read Baradwaj Rangan’s review of the film today. Here is the link: https://baradwajrangan.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/badrinath-ki-dulhania-a-troubling-rom-com-where-the-popcorn-parts-work-the-progressive-parts-dont/

    I also commented there, which might interest you. I am copy pasting it here. Please read it and let me know what you felt:

    “Please put up with me and follow this comment for few more lines. Not many, just till the end. :p Try explaining that stalking is wrong and let the rejecting woman go to the innumerable delirious fans of our superstars. Or to those superstars having innumerable delirious fans.

    One undeniable aspect of superstars is that they happen to be a visual representation of what an average chinna would like to be (Average Joe is American and our people might be offended, so I’m going Indian). For every average chinna, watching a superstar fight dozens of goons, throw some punches and do whatever they wish to (Shankar made Arjun a one-day CM) means something. These larger-than-life avatars of their demigods are so much unrestrained that they will end up providing temporary salvation to the mindless doubts and insecurities of the devotees on the other side of the screen.

    Such perceptions, on a serious note, subconsciously affects people watching films “owning” such people. And if they find something relatable there to their actual persona, half task is done. Let us see the most troubling aspect in such cases: romances.

    There is an idiom in English, “Hold your horses”. This needs to be mutual in cases where both the star and the fan are in a position of influencing each other. Either one going overboard would end up making chaos. Oh no! Sorry! I forgot that there are devotees of demigods who are unrestrained. So, let’s make this slightly south Indian. Make them, “Hold your Sarangams (deers)”. For those asking what I mean, please read this as I don’t want my deer to jump now. 😉

    http://www.hindudevotionalblog.com/2014/05/meaning-of-deer-in-shiva-hand.html

    You are great enough if you managed to reach this point. Bravo! Now just three more paragraphs (please! please!). When the audience see the hero taking no as yes and relentlessly pursue, it is neither the character’s desperation to find success nor the star’s intent to promote anything out of it. The fans, considering the state of mind they are in, see things from the hero’s eyes but with their own hearts. So, they too cannot take no for a no. They too need success by hook or crook. Take this as a single stroke. How many stars in how many films faced such conditions and how many films an average chinna watches every year consistently. Every stroke culminates into a shade on a paper. What about the heart? It creates greys, serious and callous greys. The unrestrained avatars of their demigods give so much false hope that one unintendedly starts imitating them.

    When the average chinna meets a girl in real life, proposes and gets rejected, he is not expected to be moving on. How can he, after all. Firstly, love is such a bitch and again the filmy influence is so strong. So, the feet start progressing with ominous regressiveness which the non-desi/mnc-desi/educated-desi/judgemental-desi/medical-desi stylise as “stalking”. More than a crime, it is a mental condition first. Before punishment, it requires medication. It requires assurance that the unstabilising insecurities can be warded away, that non-judgemental is no myth, and definitely that every superstar is a work of fiction from a fan’s eye. OK, assume he stops stalking (because ‘she’ never does that, right? Hey man, feminists are watching. careful! careful!). Then, you get TASMAC songs in films which do help the reformed average chinna develop hatred and disrespect on women (which is really wrong, I mean it). Remove TASMAC too.

    Average chinna and his superstar move on holding their deers firmly. Breakup happens in climax and hero is happy letting her go, realising that stalking is a crime. Then, will the problem end? You will hear comments like these: “What was the director thinking? Was he making a PSA on anti-stalking? We need films, man. Bring on some drama”, “This is too dramatic. Can’t the director be subtle? Too preachy. Sorry”, “This is an art-housy shit not intended to waste your precious time and money”, “the filmmaker intends to insert moments of fake emotional manipulation and fake feminism (but I managed to sniff; I’m no ordinary critic)”, “The hero lets her go and audience acclaim him. So, clearly the girl is villainised here and we have to be silent cooking in kitchens? We strongly protest”. You forget, the society will remind. Every week, every day. This is a butterfly-effect-having-sex-with-blame-game where none talks. They only state/protest/shout/declare/argue/judge/comment etc.

    Huh… still didn’t get my point? Talk, converse, appreciate and understand. That is the only way of romancing where neither party has issues. Go, start conversing with the opposite gender. We still have time!!”

    What say? Was I right?

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    • I really liked your phrase “see things with the hero’s eyes but their own hearts.” That is exactly the problem, that these kinds of representations can have an effect that bypasses any logic or knowledge, because the fans feel it so strongly for themselves.

      And, strangely, that is why I don’t think Badrinath is that troubling. Because as you explain, it is the “average Indian man” who reacts like this to their heroes. And it is a special kind of superstar that brings up this reaction. And Badrinath is not a movie made for men, it’s not a macho action film, it’s a romance for women and families. And Varun Dhawan isn’t really a “male” superstar, at least not of that type. He doesn’t have legions of teenage boys who worship him and model themselves after him. And so the “stalking” sequence in this movie is not going to have that kind of effect on potential stalkers. They won’t be watching the film.

      And if they do watch it, because their sister or mother or even girlfriend drags them to it, they will have to sit through a lot of scenes talking about how women are undervalued and unhappy in India surrounding those stalking scenes. Actually, if they identify with Varun, that would be a good thing. Because Varun goes through a journey himself of realizing that what he was doing was wrong.

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