Badhaai Ho (2018)

The Kaushiks live in a cramped old apartment in a colony overflowing with other lower middle class families. Priyamvada (Neena Gupta) runs the household and her husband Jeetu (Gajraj Rao) is a ticket inspector on the railways and sometime poet. They have two sons, 20-something Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana) and stroppy teenager Gular (Shardul Rana), and Jeetu’s overbearing mother (Surekha Sikri). After a particularly trying evening, tired of keeping the peace, Priyam retires to her room. Jeetu reads his latest poem to try and sooth her hurt feelings. The poetry, the stormy night, the emotion…one thing leads to another. And 19 weeks later, the Kaushiks find out Priyam is pregnant.

When people find out about the pregnancy, reactions are varied to put it mildly. The GP and his wife are supportive of Priyamvada but give Jeetu the side eye as though to say he should have been more careful. The boys are just horrified that their parents still have sex, and are embarrassed by their degenerate behaviour. The mother-in-law goes full harpy mode and criticises Priyamvada, saying she is no better than she ought to be. And the gossip mill goes in to overdrive as news spreads.

Jeetu tells Priyamvada he’d prefer she had an abortion, but she won’t contemplate that option. He gently tries to make her see the downside, but says finally it’s her body so it should be her decision. Good man, Jeetu. I really enjoyed seeing an older couple as the focus of the story, and Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao are wonderful. They are both conditioned to defer to their elders and maintain the peace. She looks elegantly middle aged, her face showing gentle lines and character. He is sweetly reticent, all business and stingy as hell on the surface but secretly romantic.

I loved a scene at a family wedding where he manoeuvred his way to be close to her in a photo, his face alight with booze and proud affection. The female relatives and wedding guests are less happy with the pregnancy and make free with their remarks, tormenting mild-mannered Priyamvada. Neena Gupta was quietly compelling but easily switched to perfectly timed comedic beats. Seeing Jeetu and Priyam navigate their way through a life changing surprise, their relationship, and all the reactions was highly engaging without being overly dramatic. It was disappointing when the film shifted focus to Nakul and his girlfriend as their relationship is one you see in every other film. I liked seeing the often invisible people get their time front and centre.

In the midst of all the talk of reproductive rights and safe sex, the male characters’ idea of masculinity rarely strays from the often toxic manly man stereotypes. Jeetu is in demand as a fertility coach among his peers, asked to counsel a troublesome nephew who remains childless despite two marriages. The nephew is introduced dancing enthusiastically to a Sridevi hit song as onlookers make snide comments. Gular is considered to be fine once he has beaten up a bully and asserted his masculinity. Nakul made fun of an impotent friend and hides lest he be on the receiving end. His jokes are funny, in a mean spirited and rehearsed way, but it is kind of telling that his friends are really frenemies. The men seem less supportive and rarely get real in their conversations with each other. The women bitch and bicker but ultimately they seem to get that family is what it is and in the end all they may have is each other. And bingo.

Ayushmann is delightful as the sooky, moody manchild Nakul who is the centre of the universe. His timing in the dialogues and his physical reactions are just about perfection, and when Nakul isn’t brooding he has a goofy energy that lights up the screen. But Nakul is an entitled dick and everything is about him. Everything. And although I was happy to see some character growth, I grew tired of the perfection of reformed Nakul, Best Son Ever. Even when the baby is born, he makes it about him. I just never really got why the boys were so horrible. Shocked, sure. But feeling betrayed – why!?! When the film detoured over to focus on him and Renee, I did lose some interest. On the upside he and Sanya Malhotra are great together and also do some excellent eyebrow choreo in the big production number, Morni Banke, that closes the film. I love an all-in end titles extravaganza!

Sanya Malhotra is charming but Renee is a little under-written, a standard issue modern girl. I liked that she has a career and that she straight up called Nakul out on some things. But when her supposedly progressive mother, played by the elegant and considered Sheeba Chaddha, criticises the Kaushiks and Nakul fires back, Renee breaks up with him. It seemed a bit convenient for the plot given her previous behaviour, but I didn’t care so much about that relationship. She has appealing looks and energy, and was a good match for Ayushmann.

Jeetu’s mum likes an orderly world where people pay attention to god and their elders, but she might not be as backward as she seems. Surekha Sikri is over the top as cantankerous Dadi at first, but when restraint was needed she wound it back nicely. Dadi helped demonstrate the strong familial love and support that helped the Kaushiks get through everything. Mostly by demanding maximum forbearance from everyone around her.

I was so relieved that Priyamvada is not simply fodder for tacky jokes, despite the dreadful poster designs. Writer Akshat Ghildial and director Amit Ravindernath Sharma deliver humour, pathos, social critique and a warm respect and affection for most of their characters. I like a good slice of life middle class social comedy and this delivers in spades. A great cast, a smart screenplay, and beautifully immersive visuals make this a delight to watch.

Advertisements

Dum Laga Ke Haisha

Dum-Laga-Ke-Haisha_poster

I wasn’t optimistic about Dum Laga Ke Haisha. Hindi films don’t have the best track record with how overweight characters are depicted, and it is produced by Aditya Chopra who is not the most progressive when it comes to portraying gender roles. Luckily director Sharat Katariya knows what he is about and this is a poignant and sometimes sweet story about an arranged marriage, grown-ups growing up, inter-generational issues and so much more.

It’s 1995, Haridwar, and conditions are shabbily picturesque. Prem (Ayushman Khurrana) is an under-achiever and high school dropout, working in the family audio-cassette shop. I have to say that I liked the idea of being able to order a bespoke mix tape, but I could see his business was likely to be in trouble as technology passed them by. Prem is happy sitting in the dusty shop listening to Kumar Sanu songs and generally passing the time with minimal effort. His dad pressures him into marrying, and so he is introduced to Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar). She is a larger figured girl, not to Prem’s taste at all. But the family say she is educated and can get a decent job teaching and bring some much needed money in. Sandhya likes the look of Prem but he is disgusted by her. He is That Guy ; the one who has little to recommend him but still demands a stick insect super model astronaut chef wife with boob implants as his due. Sandhya accepts the match with warmth and an open heart, assuming Prem is doing likewise.

Her wedding is a joyful day and the start of her new life, but Prem sees it as an ending of his hopes. He refuses to touch Sandhya and her mum tells her it’s her duty to satisfy him. She is surrounded by people who don’t try to understand her and don’t care that they hurt her feelings. His family think she is a snob and her family are worried they will send her back. Sandhya is sympathetic but not perfect. She is a little bit of a snob and she does flaunt her education at times, but she is not mean spirited and she tries so hard to adjust to her new family and life. Prem seems to delight in every rebuff and insult as vindication of his own disregard for Sandhya.

Sandhya leaves Prem after she overhears him say something particularly vile and confronts him about his lack of respect for her. Sandhya’s family greet her with dismay and recite a litany of things she should have done better and why she was lucky to have any husband at all. She toughs it out but once she is behind closed doors she cries quietly with grief and disappointment. I got the feeling her parents only educated her because they knew she would not be coasting through life on looks alone. But Sandhya won’t be denied her chance at a good life, respect, and affection. If marriage to Prem isn’t working, she will end the marriage and move on. How many times have I hoped a filmi heroine would do just that?

While Prem is whiny and Sandhya is bolshie they do have a bit in common, and that makes it sad when the marriage falters. They both struggle with being among the first generation in their respective families to use education to have a shot at moving up in life, and there is a kind of class tension between them and their parents as a result.  They’re both a little low on self-esteem and are practised at deflecting criticism. The biggest difference is that Sandhya will put on a bold front and go for it, but Prem will get bogged down in his sense of hopelessness.  There is a moment when Prem watches Sandhya stride towards a job interview and his expression is both impressed and bemused, as if he can’t quite understand how she does it.  When they are forced to live under the same roof pending the divorce hearing, the façade drops and they start see each other as individuals. Sandhya understood Prem was unhappy with himself but felt powerless to change things or to articulate his feelings to his parents, so he just felt more trapped and angry. He started to see that her generous spirit that stopped her from becoming bitter and kept her moving towards a better future. Both actors deliver excellent characterisations and they played well off each other. I take it as a mark of Khurrana’s excellent acting that I wanted to throw Prem into the river. Bhumi Pednekar is lovely and conveyed all the hope and giddiness of a newlywed and the firm determination Sandhya had to not just settle.

My subtitles helpfully declared the movie title is “Heave-Ho, Carry That Load”. I was so pleased that the only fat jokes are made by people clearly shown to be unpleasant or just thoughtless and Sandhya is never required to endorse their views. The device of a wife carrying competition is this film’s stand in for other more standard filmi heroic physical challenges. It also serves as a heavy handed metaphor for relationships – do you drag the other person along in your wake as Nirmal does, or do you take turns to give and take, to take the lead or fall back to support each other, as Prem and Sandhya eventually do?

The relationships with family and between family members add richness to the story. Sanjay Mishra is Prem’s father, and a look at future Prem unless someone sorts him out; permanently aggrieved, always hoping someone else will fixthings. Alka Amin as Prem’s mum and Seema Pahwa as Sandhya’s ma are vintage filmi mothers, throwing guilt trips and shoving food at people in equal measure. I like that despite the heated conversation over the future of their shop, when Prem’s Mum insists they have a piece of her birthday cake everyone does – using it to gesticulate or shouting with mouths full. But she is the one who finally insists Prem do the race. Aunty Naintara ( Sheeba Chaddha) rounds out the household and makes sure that Sandhya never forgets how lucky she is to have a husband.

Prem is an idiot, but Sandhya is the one to give him the reality check he needs and the motivation and support he lacks. She wants to be married and wants a good life with a partner who loves and respects her and Prem can be that man if he grows up. I ended up thinking that they had done just enough of the real talk to get their relationship on a much healthier track. And if things went wrong, Sandhya already had a good lawyer!

And as if all the subtle colours, beautiful sets, and gorgeous locations were not enough, the film ends on this delightfully retro and colourful Anu Malik number that celebrates love and cheesy choreography.

If you want to see layered and realistic relationships and an unconventionally attractive cast, see this film! 4 stars!