Badhaai Do Movie Review: Rajkummar Rao, Bhumi Pednekar are earnest in this bird’s-eye view film

Badhaai Do is miles away from its predecessor Badhaai Ho, says our review. The Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar-starrer released today, February 11, in theatres.


Movie Name: Badhaai Do
Cast: Bhumi Pednekar, Rajkummar Rao
Director: Harshavardhan Kulkarni

The patriarchal setup of society affects men and women equally. We seldom speak of the former. If a woman is expected to be fair-skinned and adept at handling ghar-grahasti, the man has to assume the role of the provider – strong and all things ‘manly’. In this, a lesbian woman and gay man do not have enough foot space to stand tall – hiding their identity and natural inclinations to fit in. Badhaai Do gives us two such characters, Shardul (Rajkummar Rao) and Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar), and tries to weave a story about how these two ‘misfits’ fit in with the help of each other. Almost like a ball and socket joint.

Bhumi’s Sumi is a PE teacher and a lesbian. Rajkummar as Shardul is a police officer, and gay. She gets sunaoed for taking up a ladko wala profession jiski tuition bhi nahi hoti, and he lives under the constant fear of being exposed. A gay man in uniform is a sitting duck, he will be teased, taunted, humiliated. And as Onir’s ongoing fight will tell you, doesn’t even exist! Their worlds collide when a boy, posing as a woman on a same-sex dating app, meets with Sumi and confidently asks ‘aapne kabhi ladko se try ne kiya? Karlo humare saath, girlfriend banne ko nahi bol raha hoon.’

As a cisgender woman watching these piercing humiliations being thrown at our protagonist, I squirm. And perhaps that’s what director Harshavardhan Kulkarni was going for. More than the protagonists of the story, he wanted to bring to the fore the jibes, insults and humiliations we throw, knowingly or unknowingly, at another human being just for being slightly different from our world view. And in the process, sensitise us. But he doesn’t succeed all the way.

Like a leech, Bollywood sometimes holds on to certain themes and just doesn’t want to let go. Of course, we’ve come a long way from Dostana or even Student Of The Year, but then there’re films like Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan or Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh, already at our disposal. Harshavardhan Kulkarni introduces the concept of ‘marriage of convenience’ into the mix, which is what gives the film something fresh.

Humour is always the go-to weapon when telling such off-beat stories targeted at the aam janta. The argument is that ‘we want to make people aware while we entertain them’. Humour, satire and sarcasm all came into existence at a time when talking straight would cost you your head. After September 2018, when homosexuality was decriminalised in India, humour shouldn’t have been Bollywood’s stand. It need not hide behind the garb of jokes to tell these stories and instead should have gone head-on to portray them as a slice-of-life film. But it is still, and that will always remain problematic.

In fact, Shardul, a gay man himself, calls himself ‘Homo Cop’, a reference to RoboCop. At his most vulnerable moment, him saying this is him expressing his deepest pain, we get it. But somewhere it makes us squirm again. Similarly, when he assumes the ‘manly’ role even in his make-belief marriage with Sumi. What are we trying to awaken if we’re gulping sleeping pills simultaneously?

And sometimes, in the hearty laugh that the audience is served, the message gets lost. And we feel that’s what happened with Badhaai Do. Alright, you can say ‘those who understood, understood’, but then if that were the case, why take the massy entertainer route?

In terms of performances, there’s little to fault in Rajkummar Rao. He is sheer brilliance on screen. Bhumi Pednekar also does her part. But somewhere remains stuck in the box Bollywood has boxed her in – a feisty woman with a soft core, from Dum Laga Ke Haisha to Toilet: Ek Prem Katha to Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.

Gulshan Devaiah remains a surprise package in Badhaai Do, and in his rather short role, he shines brighter than the sun in the film.

Parting thought? Not that Badhaai Do is bad. It has its heart in the right place, and gives us a real feel-good ending, which is what most movie-going junta hopes for. But did it bring about any change? Even stir something in your heart? We doubt it.

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