Nostalgia is a funny thing. It has this tendency to make one romanticize even the most loathsome aspects of a given period in time. Take the Bollywood of 90’s for example. When you think about most movies from that era, you associate it with a youthful brand of romance thanks to the emergence of the Khans, politically incorrect, yet amusing lyrics, and of course, stories that were high on drama, and even melodrama for the most. But when you end up taking a deeper look, what seemed adorable at that time now ends up making you cringe inwardly such as the glorification of stalking, the harassment of women etc. Shashank Khaitan’s directorial debut, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, was an interesting take on a modern day DDLJ, and the promos of Badrinath Ki Dulhania promised yet another de-construction of 90’s movie tropes. But does it end up being a pleasant watch like its predecessor?
Badrinath Bansal (Varun Dhawan) is the youngest scion of a prestigious business family from Jhansi, headed by a stern father (Rituraj) and a meek elder brother (Yash Sinha). After witnessing his brother bullied into an arranged marriage for dowry, Badri decides to never fall in love. But his best laid plans crumble when he meets Vaidehi Trivedi (Alia Bhatt), a feisty student from Kota with dreams that are bigger than the town she lives in. And even as he scrambles to gain his father’s approval for her with the help of his best friend, Somdev (Sahil Vaid), life throws a curveball at him, and knocks him off his feet, causing him to question his love, his life choices at even his very existence. With all this, are Badri and Vaidehi meant to be, or will societal norms conspire to keep them apart for good?
It is quite obvious that Shashank Khaitan misses the 90’s, and his movies are filled with references to that era, although while he kept things lighter in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, out here, he’s on a mission to fight the stigma that is dowry, while also holding up a mirror to a section of society that prides itself in its misogyny.
But somehow, his story lacks the will to really go the distance and say what it really wants to, and just ends up maintaining the status quo for the most. And that’s a disappointment, as a horrifyingly melodramatic and hackneyed second half end up undoing the good work that a refreshingly subversive first half did. And just when things seem to be settling into a nice rhythm, and you are wondering if the movie suddenly received a shot of maturity, the climax shows up to again throw everything off balance and leaves you shaking your head in absolute despair.
One really must give it to Varun Dhawan for being so earnest and possessing that quality of boyish affability that even when he plays an absolute boor of a character, he manages to still stay likeable and retain the audience’s sympathy. And it’s interesting to watch him play a deconstruction of a character that was glorified in his father’s movies.
For an actress of Alia Bhatt’s calibre, who seems to be on a quest to challenge herself with every new project she signs up, the character of Vaidehi Trivedi is a walk in the park, and she absolutely nails it, and gives one a glimpse of how a brilliant performance can marginally rescue even the most archaic and regressive material. One might even compare this to how Madhuri Dixit in the 90’s managed to rescue some cinematic abominations like Dil, Raja and Beta.
One thing that Shashank Khaitan gets right in BKD is the supporting cast. Each part is perfectly cast, be it the television actor Rituraj (who one may remember from Banegi Apni Baat, another 90’s staple) who gets every nuance of the dominating patriarch right, lyricist Swanand Kirkire as Vaidehi’s hapless father, burdened by the worries of having 2 daughters of marriageable age, Yash Sinha as Badri’s easily cowed elder brother, Shweta Prasad who is absolutely fantastic as Badri’s sweet natured sister-in-law and the one character in the movie one would’ve loved to see more of, Sahil Vaid as the goofball wedding broker and Badri’s best friend and of course Aparshakti Khurana and Gauhar Khan in absolutely delightful cameos.
Overall, Badrinath Ki Dulhania is a movie that sets out with good intentions to challenge the societal norms that once dictated cinematic content. But the film ultimately ends up hindering its own cause by ending up encouraging what it set out to denounce.