Movie Review: Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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The romantic-comedy Badrinath Ki Dulhania (“Badrinath’s Bride“) fails as both a romance and a comedy. A somewhat amusing first half is undone by a disturbing second half that is no fun to watch.

One of the qualities that made the main characters in writer-director Shashank Khaitan’s previous film, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (which starred the same lead actors in different roles) so likeable was that they both had strong moral values guiding their actions. That element is missing from Badrinath Ki Dulhania, resulting in a male lead character who is outdated at best.

Badrinath (Varun Dhawan) is the good-for-nothing youngest son of a money-lender, Mr. Bhansal (Rituraj Singh), in the town of Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. The elder Bhansal already managed to guilt-trip Badrinath’s brother, Alok (Yash Sinha), into giving up the woman he loved in favor of an arranged marriage. Bhansal’s penchant for clutching his chest and reaching for an oxygen tank he doesn’t need prompts Badrinath to explain: “An Indian father has the weakest heart in all the world.”

This would be amusing were Bhansal not a sinister enforcer of repressive gender politics. Mrs. Bhansal never speaks, period. Alok’s wife, Urmila (Shweta Prasad), is a financial expert with an advanced education, but Bhansal will not allow his daughter-in-law to work. It’s as though he takes pride in forcing such an accomplished woman into a life of domestic servitude. Alok is too much of a coward to stand up to his father, despite his wife’s suffering.

Badrinath is just as cowardly as Alok, but also more entitled. Badrinath is so assured that he can have whatever he wants — taking it by force, if necessary — that he pursues a woman who is his intellectual superior and not the least bit interested in him: Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt).

After repeatedly rebuffing Badrinath’s stalkery come-ons, Vaidehi consents to let him and his friend, Somdev (Sahil Vaid), find a groom for her elder sister, Kritika. Though Vaidehi explains that this act of kindness will not lead to a romance between her and Badrinath, he’s sure it will.

The relationship between Badrinath and Vaidehi is cute enough until she wounds his pride, prompting a chilling post-interval turn in Badrinath. He shows some violent tendencies earlier in the film in his role as his father’s bill collector, but the sense of entitlement that drives his actions in the second half adds an element of menace.

It’s almost as if Khaitan believes that Dhawan’s good looks make his character’s actions less dangerous. A boy that cute wouldn’t really hurt her, right? Dhawan already showed that he can play scary in Badlapur, and there are echoes of that performance in this film.

Another knock against Badrinath is his cowardice. This fear on the part of everyone in the family to stand up to Mr. Bhansal — even when they know he is morally wrong — taints all of the them, but Badrinath most of all as the main character. He simply has too far to grow within the constraints of the story.

Karan Johar’s role as producer of the film is a problem because his name evokes memories of his own movie about a son challenging his overbearing father: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…. The hero of that film seems vastly more progressive than Badrinath, despite the fact that K3G came out sixteen years ago.

Throughout Badrinath Ki Dulhania, there’s a feeling that Vaidehi deserves better. She and Badrinath may look nice together on the dance floor, but he can’t offer her anything she can’t achieve for herself on her own terms. All the credit goes to Bhatt, whose natural charisma outshines her co-stars.

With such an imbalance among the characters, we’re left with just another movie about a overachieving woman who must choose whether to sacrifice her goals for the sake of a man who wants a trophy for learning how to use a microwave.

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32 thoughts on “Movie Review: Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017)

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  9. btowngossip

    I think u need to watch the movie again without having preconceived notions because according to me BKD has got lot more important stuff to concentrate on than just VeeDee’s well toned body to Alia’s cute looks n dimples. The director has tried to bring the backward mentality into light n the way he has written the story is just fab. Coz usually we dont see such elements in a Rom Com movie. N yes talking about the performances yes i agree Alia’s performance may not be as gud as her previous ones but thats just simply okay. Every movie she does not necessarily must be better than her previous movies. Let me address this that both Varun n Alia have done performance driven films as well as masala movies. N the Box Office really needed a Masala Entertainer from a long tym as all we were getting was art films.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I think you missed the point of my review, btowngossip. My point was that the director expects the audience to overlook Badrinath’s dangerous, violent behavior toward Vaidehi simply because of our affinity for the actor playing him. I like fun, accessible romantic-comedies with important social messages as much as anyone — read my review of Phillauri for proof of that — but Badrinath Ki Dulhania is not one of those films.

      Reply
      1. Monika Sulik

        I didn’t feel that the director was expecting the audience to overlook Badrinath’s violent behaviour. On the contrary, I felt it was an important part of what was being said in the film. It was part of Badrinath’s character arch.
        Badrinath finally understands that his way of seeing the world is wrong and accepts that it is not right to make women subservient by force and intimidation. Only once he understands and accepts this and is willing to let go of Vaidehi, does he get the “reward” i.e. the woman he wants – albeit on conditions that suit Vaidehi. He must accept his wife/fiancée will work, will earn more than him and will frequently go away on business and leave him alone to fend for himself rather than take care of him. And he must accept this without any complaint or sense of entitlement to anything else.

        Reply
        1. Kathy Post author

          Thanks for writing, Monika! I think if the movie existed in a vacuum, I might agree with you. Bollywood’s history of excusing violence against women for the sake of male character growth runs deep, and Khaitan’s attempt to modernize that acceptance doesn’t really change anything. Badrinath’s inherent goodness is assumed, and Vaidehi is still a reward.

          To me, the movie feels as though it was written without consulting any women regarding the development of Vaidehi’s character. While Badrinath may be a product of a violently patriarchal family, Vaidehi isn’t, and she has the means to support herself financially. Given that, why would she take him back? I’m trying to imagine a scenario in which any women would counsel a friend to return to the guy who tried to kill her — traveling internationally with an accomplice to do so and only stopping when the police happen to interrupt him — and I can’t think of one. Some things are unforgivable, and Badrinath’s actions fall into that category. While he may be able to learn from his mistakes, he can’t end up with the woman he tried to kill. There’s no price he can pay that’s big enough to balance the scales with her.

          Reply
          1. Monika Sulik

            Yeah, I do agree on the Vaidehi as “reward” thing. Saw a review that said that if she had forgiven him and remained friends, but not gotten back together with him, it would have been a better ending and I agree.
            I think you and me probably differ somewhat on beliefs on forgiveness which is why, although I take your point to a certain degree, I see this is a little differently. There are certainly cases when people get forgiven for really terrible things. Have you seen “The Railway Man” for example? That’s based on a true story of how somebody who was a torture victim found closure in what eventually became a friendship with his ex-torturer. And closer to the topic of the film, whilst I can’t give you an example of exactly this scenario, I certainly have heard of women in abusive relationships, relationships with alcoholics etc. who have progressed to cordial relationships with their ex-abusers eventually and in some cases stuck by them (particularly in the case of alcoholics). I think there’s even a TED talk somewhere in which a rape victim and her rapist talk about what happened between them and the subsequent forgiving.
            What I would concede though is that Badrinath Ki Dulhania does handle a lot of these things clumsily. It doesn’t really decide whether it wants to be a sweet Bollywood romance or a drama about abusive patriarchal relationships. And there’s a number of things in the film which are a little WTF as a result. Even if you look at the scene in which a group of men sexually assault the hero and then the heroine comes to his rescue (which is IMO one of the most bizarre scenes I’ve seen in a romance ever), it is quite clumsily handled. Just as any trauma Vaidehi went through was glossed over, so too was any trauma Badrinath went through in that scene. But to me it seems that the reason for glossing over this is not coming from a patriarchal place, but rather from a confused as hell as to what the genre of this film is place.
            And I guess the main reason I was impressed with Badrinath Ki Dulhania, despite it being really confused about what it is, was that what it does is so radical. I mean it literally takes the standard Bollywood hero template that we’ve seen so many times before and says “creepy violent patriarchal stalker who is not fit for the woman he loves until he reforms and the heroine is totally justified to run away from the wedding and humiliate him to save herself”. To me that’s really radical! 🙂 So even if I can agree with you that it has shortcomings and doesn’t deal with the Vaidehi’s trauma adequately, I still don’t see it as a sexist film.

            Reply
            1. Kathy Post author

              Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Whatever a woman needs to do to move on with her life is fine, but asking her to absolve a man’s violence at the expense of her own safety is recklessness in service of perpetuating patriarchy. Also, the fact that Badrinath’s redemption comes in the form of him learning how to do household chores is a remarkably low bar. If all women ask of men is that they don’t murder us and listen to us when we teach them how to use a microwave, we’re doomed to remain second class citizens.

              Reply
              1. Monika Sulik

                The idea behind the film is that Badrinath does change and therefore Vaidehi is no longer unsafe with him. I, personally, do believe people can change and stop doing bad or abusive things. It’s not an easy journey for a person to take, but I have seen it happen (albeit very rarely). So maybe your real issue with the film is that you believe it is selling a lie when it says that an abusive man can stop being abusive?
                I don’t think Badrinath’s redemption comes in the form of learning to do household chores. Badrinath starts believing the previous patriarchal attitudes he held were wrong so fiercely that he faces up to what he most fears – his father and the possibility of being completely disinherited. Risking losing the financial support of his family, that too before he knows his relationship with Vaidehi has any future (he does not expect her to follow him), was a very dangerous move for him. Unlike Vaidehi, Badrinath is academically pretty pathetic and does not have good job prospects. Furthermore he doesn’t know how to take care of himself (as you say, even using a microwave was a big learning curve for him). So without the financial and physical support of his family he is in deep shit. He’s not like Vaidehi who can take her of herself. So challenging his father and standing up for all the women in his family (not just Vaidehi) is his redemption. He risks his whole future for his new belief.

                Reply
                1. Kathy Post author

                  Monika, in the interest of ending this conversation, let me state this explicitly: my ex-boyfriend threatened to kill me, and I don’t owe him shit. Not forgiveness, not redemption. Nothing. When filmmakers keep pushing this narrative that it’s up to women to fix their abusive male partners, it’s regressive, and it’s an insult. I’m not going to post anymore conversations in this thread because I don’t think it will do any good.

                2. Monika Sulik

                  Just wanted to apologize. I sometimes do that thing where I end up getting into something which feels like a pretty intellectual/abstract debate to me without realizing that this might not feel like that to the other person. And you’re totally right – you have every right to your feelings on the matter.
                  But also want to say thank – I enjoy reading your reviews and getting into debates with you because I like that you really think through stuff and have strong opinions on film (plus I really enjoy debates!). You could have easily blocked me or something and you didn’t – I appreciate that. And hope you don’t mind if I end up in some debate with on another review sometime 🙂 I will try to be more sensitive in the future and once again my apologies as in this instance I probably went a bit too far.

                3. Kathy Post author

                  Thanks, Monika. I appreciate it. I know your weren’t coming from a malicious place, so your comments are certainly welcome here in the future. 🙂

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