Badrinath Ki Dulhania is not your average light-hearted romantic comedy nor is it the crusading feminist film it aspires to be.
Varun Dhawan stars as Badri, a debt collector in Jhansi who works for his wealthy father. He runs into the lovely Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt) at a wedding and immediately decides that he wants to marry her. All it takes is one brief exchange of insults and one dance number for him to know she’s the woman for him – so much for a progressive story line.
Admittedly this is a small-town romance. Badri is from Jhansi and Vaidehi lives in nearby Kota. Middle class Vaidehi’s parents worry about scraping together enough dowry to marry off both their daughters, both of whom are educated, pretty and have plenty going for them.
Badri’s father meanwhile, despite being wealthy, demands a hefty “wedding gift” when his sons marry. This may seem like a decent premise for tackling the entire dowry issue but the film rapidly goes off the rails.
After that first meeting, Badri immediately sends a friend to talk to her parents and, as an afterthought, tells her he’s planning to marry her. Vaidehi tells him she isn’t interested – on multiple occasions, in many ways and in crystal clear language. Badri, of course, is a Bollywood hero so he thinks “no” really means ‘she doesn’t know what’s best for her’.
Cue stalking, dogged insistence and some manipulation packaged as gallantry from the hero. Regardless of the fact that this sets up the rest of the plot, it’s deeply disappointing to see this as the basis for yet another love story.
From Shammi Kapoor and Saira Bano in Junglee (1961) to Anushka Sharma and Salman Khan in Sultan (2016), no rarely means no.
Badrinath Ki Dulhania’s story itself is poorly thought out, with the second half in particular being full of convenient plot devices and contrived situations. The action suddenly shifts to Singapore and the pair’s transformation from small-town yokels to urban youngsters is jarring.
Seeing them forced into a domestic situation and exchanging romantic glances over halwa requires a definite suspension of belief.
While the plot is deeply flawed, Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan give their usual polished performances. The styling, songs and choreography are all well done and the film has the trappings of a festive, feel-good movie. There are some funny moments among the laboured role-reversal jokes and there’s plenty of eye candy.
The supporting cast of the rom-com is hit and miss. Sahil Vaid has his moments as Badri’s sidekick Somdev and both fathers are good caricatures of parental emotional blackmail. Badri’s brother and Vaidehi’s sister both offer interesting counterpoints to their romance.
However, all of this happens mostly in the first half. The entourage of friends in the second half fail to make much impact and this adds to the loss of momentum after the interval.
Where the film really fails is the fact that this is not a jori (match) you want to be cheering on.
Badri is supposed to be a bad boy with a heart of gold but spends far too much of the movie acting entitled. He is an uneducated thug -unpar gunda- (spoilers!) who stalks, threatens and at one point abducts Vaidehi.
She's educated, smart, spunky and apparently an utter fool because his creepy persistence, sorry "loyalty", is such a redeeming factor that all is forgiven. He doesn't deserve her on any level and the entire "romance" is a travesty.
From the very first frame, the film signposts its activist credentials, talking about the social scourge of dowry. Yet, even as it aims to upend gender stereotypes, Badrinath Ki Dulhania is deeply sexist and reactionary.
Despite the use of modern technology, the second half could be right out of Bollywood yesteryear. At one point Badri tells his father “This is 2017” but does Bollywood realise this? While it's great they're making anti-dowry film, how about making violence a deal breaker in any relationship?
The film miscues its feminist aspirations big time. A straightforward rom-com would honestly have been more fun.