Khandaani Shafakhana Review (SPOILERS): A Smart Woman Surrounded By Dumb People; A Smart Film Surrounded By Dumb Jokes

Such a frustrating film! There is about 40 minutes of a really good movie, and about 60 minutes of a stupid comedy kind of mushed together.

Plot in Two Pieces:

I think I am going break this into two parts, the really good movie plot about being a woman and family pressure and stuff, and the stupid part about “ha-ha, SEX!”

Good Movie:

Sonakshi is the youngest of 3 children and the one who carries the responsibility on her shoulders. Her mother is widowed and sits at home, her sister was married off to a wealthy family thanks to money borrowed from her mother’s brother, and her brother doesn’t work either. Sonakshi works as a pharmaceutical saleswoman and hates it, her biggest dream is to open up her own ayurvedic medicines company and work for herself, pay off the loan from her uncle, and take care of the family. Her mother blindly keeps talking about her marriage as though she doesn’t see that Sonakshi is taking care of the whole family and can’t marry. Sonakshi’s great uncle dies and leaves her his sex clinic. Her mother and brother can’t understand why she inherited instead of one of them. The will says she has to run the clinic for 6 months, and the lemonade salesman on the street below the clinic is in charge of making sure she arrives and stays all day, but as he watches Sonakshi from a distance, he comes to respect her skill and encourages her to follow her dreams. At first Sonakshi is just marking time, planning to sell the clinic at the end of 6 months and pay off their debts. But in the meantime they are running out of money for daily expenses. She has one potential paying customer, Badshah (playing himself essentially) but she doesn’t have any leftover medicine for him. She thinks back to her childhood and remembers things her great uncle taught her. She studies his text books and teaches herself Unani medicine (a branch of herbal based treatments) and starts treating the customers for real and discovers her talent. But her mother is furious with her and wants her to stop because it is ruining their reputation. Sonakshi keeps fighting to grow the clinic and get more customers, and refuses to sell it because she loves the work and believes in it. In the end there is a court case against her for practicing medicine without a license and she proves her knowledge and is offered a seat in the local Unani medical college.

Bad Movie:

A fast talking young woman with a funny layabout brother inherits a sex clinic from her uncle. She has to run the clinic and puts up with a series of funny clients who come in. She hides from her mother that she is running the clinic, and her brother is taking over her job selling medicine. Her brother keeps getting in trouble for flirting with girls at work, and they are running low on money. The patients just pay “in kind”. And then one night a mysterious car follows her and it is the famous rapper Badshah! Who turns out to have been a client of her uncle’s! Sonakshi figures out how to make his medicine and charges him a lot for it. She starts going around the neighborhood with a bullhorn advertising the clinic and is stopped by the head of the neighborhood association (and her sister’s uncle by marriage) who she diagnoses with piles. It all ends at a court case where the judge keeps getting a fit of the giggles over the topic, and the whole room starts talking about sex. And then Badshah shows up and admits he is a client, which shocks everyone and proves that Sonakshi has talent.

Image result for khandaani shafakhana poster

You see? You see the difference between the two films? The first one is fascinating and a little bit original. The essential set-up is familiar, our hero is the sole support of the family, has big dreams and wants to achieve them despite the doubts of her hide-bound family. In the current era of “ray ray, Made in India, new local businesses” messages, this is a story we have seen in everything from Padman to Sui Dhaaga. But what is different this time is that our outside of the box thinking hero is a woman. Which means she isn’t able to forcibly drag her family along behind her, she is pressured to constantly bend to them.

In the most powerful moments of the film, what we see is Sonakshi being talented and smart and powerful and being forced to listen to people who are stupider and less talented and just plan WRONG. Her mother is a stupid stupid woman. A nice woman, and we feel for her when she is humiliated in front of her in-laws, and we can see why Sonakshi loves her. But she is dumb. She took a loan from her brother and lost their house. She thinks to marry off Sonakshi without realizing Sonakshi is the only earner in the family. And we can see that Sonakshi has been bearing the weight of her stupidity for years. All the way back in childhood, she enjoyed working with her uncle and had a natural talent for medicine. But her mother declared it was a shameful thing to do and dragged her away. Her uncle left her the clinic because she was the only smart person in that whole household.

Yes, Indian society is nervous about talking about sex. Yes, her mother sees her as losing the pride of the household through her behavior. But you can acknowledge that and also be smart enough to see the practical side of things. The sex clinic, and more generally the ability to gain valuable knowledge, is worth a lot. And all you need is a little bit of intelligence to see that and start looking for ways to make the most of it. Sonakshi’s mother doesn’t have that intelligence. Just as her brother doesn’t have the intelligence to keep a job that is handed to him. But Sonakshi is a girl, so she is left with the only option of being trapped by their stupidity into a life of homelessness (literally, they lose their home because of her mother’s actions), or breaking all the rules of society by forcing them to acknowledge her intelligence.

That is what the prologue is about as well, we see Sonakshi’s uncle Kulbushan Khurbani talking with his fellow professors at the Unani medical school about how he wants to open a clinic and start treating sexual dysfunction. He is smarter than them and more talanted than them, but he is trapped by their shortsightedness and stupidity and ends up being thrown out of the faculty. Sonakshi faces the same challenges, her own family cannot see what she can see, and she is trapped by them and thrown out by them. A boy wouldn’t have to put up with that. A boy would be respected as the head of the household now that his father was dead. At the very least, a boy could give an opinion on taking a loan against the house before it happened. Sonakshi has to weaken herself and squeeze herself down to be a daughter that will make her mother comfortable, someone who only sees small visions of short term wealth, who takes tedious boring jobs that are “appropriate” for a girl, and so on and so forth.

There are so many small things in the script that support this interpretation. The love story for instance. She falls in love with the lemonade stand street hawker. There is a scene of him being taunted by his fellow storekeepers when he dares to open up a storefront rather than just a stand. We need to know that he is very lowly, lessor even than the other store keepers on the street. Sonakshi holds back on her feelings for him but eventually lets them blossom at the same time that she allows her talent and interest in medicine to blossom. The message is supposed to be that her mother’s daughter is supposed to marry up, maintain the family honor. She is finding her own way outside of marriage and feeling free enough to fall for someone who won’t live up to her mother’s narrow standards. Only, there is so little time spent on both the love story and the time when Sonakshi finds herself, that the message is lost in a sea of bad sex jokes.

Sonakshi’s mother in the film wants her to be small and unthreatening, weaker than her. And it feels like somehow while the film was being made, again and again the makers were told to make Sonakshi’s character small and unthreatening. We are told that Sonakshi makes enough money as a saleswoman to support her household, but we only see her make one sale and the rest are failures. Once she inherits the clinic, she spends half the movie struggling and incompetent trying to run the clinic. And then, finally, she discovers her abilities to make medicine. After a couple of scenes of confidence and excitement about a new future, she is arrested, her mother yells at her, and her whole life falls apart. Before the final happy ending of her being tidily placed away at the Unani college. The same place her uncle left 20 years ago because they were so small minded.

The film feels draggy, slow, partly because we keep having this pattern of our intelligent confident strong heroine constantly failing. A faster funner movie would have had her find herself and start succeeding early in the movie. Then wacky hijinks with too many clients, let the romance blossom and perhaps let her mother object, let her mother find out about her success and throw her out of the house, have her decide to keep going, and finally end up with the courtcase against her for practicing without a license. And have the result of the court case be that the Unani college is shamed and gives her a degree immediately as acknowledgment of the knowledge and skill she has already shown.

But we don’t get that movie. We have an hour of Sonakshi failing and failing and failing, then twenty minutes of success, and then more failure. Our supposed lead character constantly loses her screen time to “comedy” from Varun Sharma and Badshah. It’s just not fun. Unless you happen to enjoy watching smart women be constantly worn down by the society that won’t let them succeed.

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5 thoughts on “Khandaani Shafakhana Review (SPOILERS): A Smart Woman Surrounded By Dumb People; A Smart Film Surrounded By Dumb Jokes

  1. I think I have a crush on the lemonade seller. So handsome.
    Dil Jaaniye song is delightful and I like that Sonakshi is “the hero”, she likes the boy, she looks at him when he isn’t looking. I love it. What a pity the movie is not about Sonakshi being successful and taking the guy she likes. Stupid male producers, they ruined a good story.

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    • I knew you would have a crush on him!!!! We get to the scene where he shows up to gently tell her how smart she is while wearing a sweater vest and I thought “Angie will have such a crush on this guy”.

      On Mon, Aug 5, 2019 at 4:25 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  2. I’m still thinking about this movie, and I wonder who, for the producers was target audience of this film. The poster says: “The only sex film for the whole family”. But I don’t think any father would take his family to see a movie about sex. The guys who watch sex comedies, won’t watch it either, because there is no sexy girl in it, like e.g in Kyaa Kool Hai Hum. Sonakshi dresses like her own grandma here. So I think only Badshah fans saw it? This really could be a nice movie for women and I’m sure it would earn more that way.

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    • It’s strange, you would think the obvious audience for a female lead movie would be woman. But that hardly ever seems to occur to producers. Thank goodness for Sonam and her sister, producing their own movies for the audience they know is out there.

      Like

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