‘Badhaai Do’: is empathetic and dignified, yet zippy

‘You’ve been cheating us all along!’ So screams Mrs.Singh—played with a trenchant force by Loveleen Mishra, just one of the many actors in this fine ensemble—at her daughter, Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar). Meanwhile, the father (a superb Nitesh Pandey) segues from an age-challenged, fountain-of-youth wannabe to a crumpled “Why me?” The girl’s been outed as a lesbian, not out of choice but the darned Indian Railways: who expected that train to leave on time? Else, her mother-in-law (Sheeba Chaddha) wouldn’t have returned to discover what she does. What Mrs. Singh doesn’t realize—and neither do Sumi and her gay cop husband, Shardul Thakur (Rajkumar Rao), both together in a lavender marriage, up to a certain point —that the two have been fooling themselves, burying their true identities and personas under societal and familial geological layers that have been tempered by the force of patriarchy and pressures of conformity. In Badhaai Do (Give Felicitations), director Harshavardhan Kulkarni, writing with Suman Adhikary and Akshat Ghildial, couches his observations tongue firmly in cheek, but not at his leads’ emotional cost or dignity. His hand is on their shoulders, embracing their journey through a fragile landscape that’s as daunting as it is fraught. Both Rajkumar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar are terrific, as they charter their characters’ struggle for love and empathy in acts that are defiant, scared, and torn. Director Kulkarni, when he does confront them with their truth, breaks your heart, a meltdown amidst despair and tugs of hope.

Rajkumar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar: shades of lavender

Plus, there’s the adorable Chum Darang as Rimjhim, who can analyze pathological samples as expertly as she does Sumi’s feelings. And Gulshan Devaiah, in his cameo, is a sunbeam, flirting with as much ease with Shardul as with his nuances. 

If the movie does fall for tropes, it’s in its music. There’s the now-seemingly-mandatory rambunctious wedding number, all set to Punjabi beats and throwaway lyrics. That a film so sensitive in its approach should cut its soundtrack in a manner so archetype is a downer. I longed for some fun melodies and numbers that don’t make you go tend to the odd chore at home but keep you transfixed in a thematic bind. With a laundry list of composers and lyricists (another avoidable template), how do you expect an intertwining of songs and the plot that composers such as Rahul Dev Burman wove into their background scores as well? Succor comes in the form of composer Amit Trivedi’s delicate Hum They Seedhey Saadhey sung by Shashaa Tirupati, but that’s the exception, not the disc norm.

Coming back to the plot—see the disconnected soundtrack?—it is in Sheeba Chaddha’s character as Shardul’s mother that the director fingers a critical causal hub—a widowed cog in the family who’s been subverted and whose voice replaced with those wearing the metaphorical dominatrix suit (Seema Pahwa, fabulous as usual), is relegated to being in the background as a squeaking toy if that at all. Not used to any confrontation, she fumbles at playing a tough in-law. Chaddha, in one of the best performances this year, shows what a powerful act can be and shouldn’t necessarily be. When she does stand up, she doesn’t raise her voice. She lets her eyes, burdened with broken dreams and loneliness, make up for her halting inflection.

Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Badhaai Do is streaming on Netflix and rated  U/A (Parental Guidance for children below 12 years) for an adult theme.

Badhaaai Do
Director Harshavardhan Kulkarni Time 2h 27min
Writers Harshavardhan KulkarniSuman Adhikary, Akshat Ghildial
Stars Rajkumar Rao, Bhumi Pednekar, Chum Darang, Sheeba Chaddha, Seema Pahwa, Loveleen Mishra, Nitesh Pandey
Genres Comedy, Drama