Cast: Bhumi Pednekar, Rajkummar Rao, Seema Pahwa, Sheeba Chaddha, Lovleen Mishra, Nitesh Pandey, Shashi Bhushan, Chum Darang and Deepak Arora
Director: Harshavardhan Kulkarni
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of 5)
A felicitious, level-headed blend of entertainment and social purpose, Badhaai Do makes light work of a difficult theme and drives home its message without breaking into song and dance over it. No mean feat that. The film unequivocally champions the cause of individuality and inclusivity while delivering an engaging story that is funny, thought-provoking and intriguingly angular in one fell swoop, keeping its feet firmly on the ground.
Suman Adhikary and Akshat Ghildial's sensitive and witty screenplay is handled with striking skill by director Harshavardhan Kulkarni (of Hunterrr fame), who, furthermore, extracts admirable performances from both the two lead actors and a fabulous supporting cast.
By choosing small-town Uttarakhand as its setting, Badhaai Do secures for itself the freedom not to fly into any overblown obfuscations and gingerly traipse its way into a nondescript world where woke-ism isn't even a word, let alone an idea in currency and practice.
Even when it wades into situations that might come across as somewhat far-fetched - inevitable, because the plot hinges on a marriage of convenience between a lesbian woman and a gay man seeking to break free from societal shackles - the film never strays away from the real and the grounded.
Shardul Thakur (Rajkummar Rao), a member of an extended family, is a sub-inspector posted in a women's police station in Dehradun. Suman Singh (Bhumi Pednekar), who lives with her parents and a teenaged younger brother, is a physical instructor in a school. Both are in the early 30s but in mood to be hustled into marriage.
Shardul's aunt (Seema Pahwa) and his widowed mother (Sheeba Chaddha) are desperate to find a bride for him. Suman, too, is in a similar spot. Neither is interested in the opposite sex but cannot come out given the conservative milieu that they are part of. They find each other - Suman meets Shardul when she lodges a police complaint about a stalker - and decide to resort to a regular marriage as a means to get their families off their backs and continue to be who they really are.
The lavender marriage runs into complications when Sumi's newfound love, Rimjhim (Chum Darang), a pathology lab assistant, moves in with her. Shardul has a flat in the police colony and keeping up the facade of being a happily married couple becomes a major challenge because the deputy superintendent of police lives in the apartment a floor down. Parents, other relatives, and nosey neighbours have to be kept at bay. It is obviously easier said than done.
At heart Badhaai Do is a lively comedy - in many ways and occasionally, it recalls the subtle, good-humoured methods that a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film employed so effectively in another era. But its firmly new-age spirit helps it emphatically embrace diversity and difference as it explores notions of masculinity, feminine desire, marriage, procreation and the manacles that society seeks to put on those who are born different.
Badhaai Do has several scenes that could have been gratuitously trivial had the writing been not so on point almost all through. Yes, the film is overlong and could have done with a tighter edit. But when it has run its course and made its point without frothing at the mouth, you leave the theatre with the feeling that this film could not (and should not) have been made any other way.
Humour and gentle persuasion are its principal weapons and it uses them in a manner that sheathes a piercing sharpness in a velvet cover. One or two moments do inch towards the edge of preachiness only to pull back in the nick of time and return to the couch of light-heartedness that the film holds on to all the way till its pre-climactic turning point.
The soundtrack is embellished with love ditties that celebrate gay love in such a refreshingly matter-of-fact and gently embedded way that they do not even seem to be smashing ensconced prejudices. In that sense, and in others, Badhaai Do deserves unstinted felicitations.
If that gives the impression that this is a film that gets everything absolutely right, well, the truth is far from it. Badhaai Do isn't without its share of blemishes, but a two-and-a-half-hour Bollywood film about same-sex love (and a couple of couples out to assert themselves in a world full of biases) that does not let any manner of self-conscious awkwardness obstruct its course is a minor marvel.
Besides the writing and the lightness of the directorial interventions, the acting by the ensemble cast is extraordinarily effective. Rajkummar Rao is never short of believable as the policeman who must grapple with a reality that is at sharp variance with what the world thinks he should be. Bhumi Pednekar is no less impressive as the girl who must take on her own immediate family and that of the man whom she 'marries'. Both are delicately written, executed and performed roles that gives Badhaai Do a firm spine.
Seema Pahwa and Sheeba Chaddha are terrific and so is Loveleen Mishra in the role of the hero's mother who every now and then takes a vow of silence. Nitesh Pandey, cast as the heroine's father, delivers a fine performance that creates a solid context for the girl's struggle for acceptance. Gulshan Devaiah, the star of Kulkarni's 2015 debut film Hunterrr, plays a cameo here that is special in more ways than just the technical sense.
Badhaai Do is out in the theatres. Make the trip. You won't regret it.
Bhumi Pednekar, Rajkummar Rao, Seema Pahwa, Sheeba Chaddha, Lovleen Mishra, Nitesh Pandey, Shashi Bhushan, Chum Darang and Deepak Arora