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The Woman Card

Saturday, March 11, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya
Director: Shashank Khaitan
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, and others
Rating: * * *

‘Badrinath Ki Duhaniya' is set in that nightmarishly patriarchal world that our saas-bahu TV serials are made of—men set the rules, submissive women dressed in traditional finery meekly follow. What happens in Shashank Khaitan’s feudal Jhansi when one young woman breaks out of the cage?

The film waves the feminist flag which is a good enough reason to cheer, even though it flies half mast. In a Hindi film, the leading lady says love is not enough, respect is important too, and waits out her suitor’s ardent wooing till he learns to respect her.

Badri (Varun Dhawan) is the Jhansi dude, belonging to the feudal Bansal family, controlled by the patriarch’s (Rituraaj Singh) seeming feeble heart that seizes anytime there is a hint of protest. The older son (Yash Sinha) capitulated and married a woman of his father’s choice; Badri falls in love with Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt) and is genuinely puzzled when she does not reciprocate; what’s not to like about a good-looking bloke from a rich family? Badri plots and manoeuvres to get a proposal, with the requisite dowry, approved by his father. The film starts with a disclaimer that it does not endorse dowry, but there will be many amidst its target audience, who will not be converted by the film’s message; and if a formidable father could be converted by just a burst of drunken defiance then India would have had no khaps, but you can’t blame the filmmaker for trying to make a point, even if the approach is so simplistic.

The conflict, refreshingly enough, is not rich versus poor (or middle-class), but male entitlement versus female ambition. Vaidehi wants to escape the suffocation of a small town with its built-in male chauvinism, Badri is a decent guy who needs to get generations of patriarchal conditioning out of his mind before he can win Vaidehi’s love and respect. If Badri does not come across as an awful stalker, it’s because Varun Dhawan plays him with charm and vulnerability.

'Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya' is enjoyable, barring the prolonged meander in the second half. Sahil Vaid is watchable as Badri’s loyal matchmaker sidekick; Alia Bhatt is wonderfully spirited, but this film belongs to Varun Dhawan.

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