Three fourths into Badrinath Ki Dulhania (BKD), Badri (Varun Dhawan) and Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt) converse on what names Badri would call his future children. An embarrassed Badri rattles off the names of four daughters – it is to the film’s credit, that it doesn’t labour the point or seek to remind you that at an earlier point in the narrative, Badri had come up with names for two daughters and two sons. It is a subtle but effective way to show the audience how far this small town yokel has come. And by that, I don’t just mean Singapore where the sluggish second half of the film is set.
Badrinath played by the effervescent Varun Dhawan is an unashamed yokel – he has little in the way of ambition, intellect and is not particularly noble or principled. His being a male in a rich family in Jhansi is his only singular achievement. Enough, he feels, to win him the hand of the better educated, ambitious but middle class Vaidehi. Badri is in for a rude shock as the film nudges him to the realisation that just being born into a particular gender won’t do.
Badrinath Ki Dulhania is more the coming of age of the entitled small town Indian male than the feminist film it is being skewered for– and that is why it works. It is about an Indian man who accepts that he is privileged to have his love reciprocated, and not the other way round.
It is about an Indian woman who calls the shots – the decision to opt out or stay on in the relationship is purely hers. That it does all this within the parameters of a popcorn, commercial entertainer is much to laud.
And yet the route Badrinath Ki Dulhania takes is open to problematic interpretation – in a world of heightened social media sensibilities and miscued AIB videos, you will have enough of us waving the red flag of stalking.
BKD encourages stalking as much as a Durex ad encourages reproduction. It doesn’t. In the first half of the film, Badri is far too harmless to be taken seriously. Anyone who has grown up in a small town (I have) will tell you that lovelorn boys outside your college is par for the course. The girls do not feel threatened by it and in most cases, in the absence of active encouragement they move onto more willing recipients. Teenage hormones besides being perpetually raging are also thankfully quite fickle.
What Badri does later in the film though with the abduction sequence has to be viewed within its context – there is enough of a set up which tells you that this is not an act that should be condoned. It is an act that he actively regrets later in the film, and is clearly done to showcase the misogyny of his bully of a father.
It is a miscued and abhorrent act and the film treats it that way. To believe that it sets up an abusive relationship or sets up its heroine as a doormat is to consistently undervalue the intelligence of the audience.
In films like in real life, people do stupid things. Badri acts in a mix of stupidity and rage – and he is not glorified for it. If I had to really think about it, the only real problem for me in the film is why Vaidehi finally falls for him – apart from the fact that he dances really well and is Varun Dhawan. But then men have married for far less – and if Vaidehi wants amiable eye candy as a spouse, who are we to judge?
In all the opinion pieces (including this one) that have followed BKD, you would be forgiven for thinking that it is a terribly important cinematic landmark in the history of Hindi films. It isn’t. It is sweet, fluffy and quite forgettable. If you must however outrage since it is the fashion to do so, it does give you two very valid reasons.
First, it treats a potential molestation of a man as a comic sequence and second, it damages Tamma Tamma Loge. Forever. And irreparably.
Just for that – bring the outrage on.
(Naomi Datta consumes Bollywood voraciously and tweets at nowme_datta)