The review of Shashank Khaitan’s Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014), began on these pages — “Like most of us 90s kids, Shashank Khaitan is enamored by the 90s Bollywood. For better or worse. You grow up with it and it is ingrained in your system.”
Little did we know how much it is ingrained in Khaitan. He’s made a spiritual sequel to Humpty Sharma, solidifying the Dulhania franchise. Badrinath Ki Dulhania has the same leads, the same sidekick and for half of its run, it is the same energizer bunny that runs on the kind of repartee championed by Badrinath Bansal (Varun Dhawan) and Vaidehi Trivedi (Alia Bhatt).
What is Alia Bhatt’s disappointing performance? Nobody knows. Is there anyone in the industry who can effortlessly balance the sensibilities of today’s Hindi cinema and also that of the 90s? Only Bhatt can be that temple-going small town girl and also the firecracker that cautions the titular hero from taking another step towards her, all in the same film. She is Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi of the 90s rolled into one and wears that ‘Patakha Guddi’ tag like a badge of honor.
We know from Badlapur (2015) that Dhawan can act but there is a problem in telling when Dhawan is playing a character and when he is playing himself. He feels at home (at times literally) when he channels Govinda in a song like Aashiq Surrender Hua, that seems to have specially composed to revive that era.
It’s a masterstroke how Khaitan places his films, not in the cities like many of Dharma or YRF productions but in the small towns where he can evoke that nostalgia and still keep things current. It was Ambala in Humpty Sharma and here, Kota and Jhansi take over. Khaitan isn’t an empty filmmaker who only lives by throwbacks and references.
When we see Vaidehi in a classroom, she is giving the definition of claustrophobia and almost immediately she’s filmed from outside a grill as the caged woman. Interestingly, her aspiration is to fly, become an air hostess and this is at odds with what everyone around her wants.
The first half is a lot of fun even if it makes us retire to the thought that this is Humpty Sharma all over again. And then Khaitan pulls the rug from under our feet by using a twist that is a ghost of a different era. Kota and Jhansi give way not to an Indian metropolis but to Singapore.
Khaitan feels compelled that a man like Badri, at once agreeable and terrible, surrounded by men worse than him, needs that dissonance to hit him hard. The kinetic energy of the first half gives way to a much darker film.
Some of it is troubling, problematic and painful to watch, especially the kind of moping Badri does and Vaidehi is subjected to.
Khaitan admirably hasn’t picked up a sledgehammer to drive his point home. He’s tried to tell a story of an extremely flawed individual. The preachy tone permeates only in the last portions. Badrinath Ki Dulhania is not entirely a misfire. It works to a great extent and its ideas and attempts are noble.