MUMBAI, Mar. 11: The moment you see the Indian film is set in Jhansi, you know that sooner or later, there will be a line involving a certain legendary queen known for her valour. Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya beats the drums for its women, loud and clear; sometimes a tad too loudly and clearly, but that’s okay, because it’s that kind of film.
It is the kind of mainstream film which wants to shift the goal-post of how ‘heroes’ and heroines’ are constructed and presented, without being too radical, but making clear, at the same time, that some elements will be deployed differently. I noted those strokes, as we are meant to. And I smiled through much of the film, as we are meant to.
The moment you see Badri (Varun Dhawan) and Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt) meet-cute in a wedding, you know where they are headed. His ‘tenth class pass’, uncomfortable-with-Engliss-brashness rubbing up against her ‘padhi-likhi’ ambitions creates the outlines for their romance, and because it’s Jhansi, we know that she will be the Rani, and he will be her Raja.
The challenge of any rom com is to get past its predictable beats. The setting lends the film freshness. The creation of a credible, lived-in family — Badri’s formidable ‘pitaji’ Mr Bansal (here I have a quibble: Ritu Raj looks much too young to be the papa of two adult males), meek ma, supportive ‘bhaiyya’ and ‘bhabhi’, and Vaidehi’s parents (Swanand Kirkire as the put-upon, ‘dahej’-fearing father is excellent) and an older sister who finds an unlikely mate (Aaparshakti Khurana) — and friends, is also a strength.
So is the lead pair, whom we’ve seen in the same boat in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaiya: in this second instalment of what looks like a franchise, they are sharper, more vivid, and better attuned to each other. What’s also nice is that they are given flaws (nothing too serious, and nothing which cannot be addressed by the end of the film, but clearly there all the same), making them relatable.
Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt are surrounded by a bunch of able actors, all of whom are given things to do. Of special note is a terrific act by Sahil Vaid as the Hero’s Best Friend, who bids fair to be the best part of the film. Apart, of course from Bhatt, who manages to pull off a pitch-perfect performance as the ‘dulhaniya’ with a mind and will of her own. Dhawan is good too, as the entitled wealthy boy-who-may-never-turn-into-man, and then finding his feminist feet. He is unafraid to give his heart away, and admit to it, and shed tears when it is time. Boys do cry.
The post-interval proceedings are marred by a huge contrivance, and turn into a bit of a meander. And there are some portions which are bunged in as set-pieces, instead of moving organic parts. A couple of times, the film’s let’s hear-it-for-the-ladies comes off as a simplistic flourish. But overall, the film works as a flavoursome romance with a pair which grows into each other, and with each other. I’m happy to cheer any film which tacks on the word ‘respect’ with ‘love’, and does a climactic take-down of patriarchy, even if its all broad brush-strokey and dialogue heavy.(TIE)