LICH rating: (4 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)
Last year, actress Neena Gupta posted a cryptic but telling message on social media: that she was an actor based out of Mumbai and that she was looking to play good roles. With Badhaai Ho (Congratulations), she hopefully won’t have to post anything like it again. For in this venture helmed by Amit Ravindernath Sharma, she sparkles, radiates, and comes bearing with news that throws her entire family out of gear. And even then her act is a silent, dignified protest against social mores and boundaries.
As in most of real life for women, it is Gupta’s Priyamvada Kaushik who bears the brunt of the after-effects of an evening capped by thunder-claps and rains. The scene is done sweetly and delicately, with husband Jeetender (Gajraj Rao) reciting a poem that’s been published in a magazine and aptly titled Milan ki ritu (The season of union). It’s 19 weeks later that the couple is faced with a medical report that’s unthinkable and unplanned. In the meantime, you meet rest of the family—elder son Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana) working in a marketing agency, and going on steady with co-worker Renée (Sanya Malhotra), in his spare time engaging with friendly verbal spars with his trio of friends; younger son Gullar (Shardul Rana) who’s neither good at studies nor at beating up bullies at school; and the family matriarch Daadi (Surekha Sikri, simply marvelous) who pronounces whiplash of judgments against her daughter in-law and cracks the whip against her hapless son—but when it comes to turning her blazing guns to defend them, there’s no stopping her.
Writers Akshat Ghildial (who also wrote the bull’s eye, no bull dialogues), Jyoti Kapoor, and Shantanu Srivastava take a look at the Kaushiks, a middle-class family in Delhi’s Lodhi Colony, and their everyday lives that’s upended by Priyamvada’s pregnancy. The scenes that mark the announcement are a riot—beginning with the husband-wife receiving the stunner in their local clinic. Jeetender immediately decides to abort and is flabbergasted when Priya tells him she won’t. In the car, he sputters much like his 13-year old vehicle, his pacifist nature kicking in and taking a step back on hearing this. Finally he tells her that it’s her decision, not so much as a form of support, but, as his hand gestures, washing his hands off the final way forward. It’s not that Jeetender is bad; as we discover later, he’s simple adorable, supporting both wife and mother in a delicate trapeze act.
It is the children and the grandmother who are bigger problems to contend with, especially the former. Ayushmann Khurrana turns in another delightful middle-class act, stuck with a decision that he isn’t part of and yet has to slink around in the neighborhood and the office, and worse, break the news to girlfriend Renée. (Sanya Malhotra absolutely cracks it in the reveal scene, her reaction a combination of uncontrollable guffaw that she tries to bottle in and yet commiserate with the love of her life.) Khurrana is brilliant in every scene, his reaction an unfettered riot onscreen, especially when he doesn’t speak, but glares at his parents, as if to say, “Yikes! How could you?!” Or, when he lashes out at his younger brother, he’s outright hilarious. But he’s also heart-meltingly good in the scenes where he draws out his sensitive, mortified self when he reaches out to his family or apologizes to Renée’s mother, Sangeeta (a superb Sheeba Chaddha). Also watch him when he rehearses a line in front of the mirror referring to his father, and later, delivers it to such triumphant effect, you want to applaud—and the audience in my hall actually did. As the younger sibling Shardul Rana is very good, his sullen, hormone-induced act a winner.
Underneath the gags and laughs—and some mild, avoidable digressions, especially the wedding scene song—director Sharma also nudges you to look at how we’ve been conditioned to think—or not—about sex; if parents find it hard to talk about it with their children, their progeny find it an absolutely abhorrent act when it comes their parents—Nakul’s ability to perform is debilitated because he’s haunted by the visuals of his parents doing it. Society’s tuning is unfathomably pea-brained and yet inescapably deeply ingrained: after the children grow up—and how do you define ‘grown up’? When they attain puberty? When they marry? When they have children?—parents are to lock up their own desires and needs and chant and pray; libido’s a dirty word—never mind that that’s part of what got those bundles of joys into being in the first place—and the woman can’t go around wearing make up any more. For, if there’s to be no sex, why look inviting at all? Surely she doesn’t take effort to look good just for herself? It has to be for her man, right? The movie has an insightful take at socio-economic divides as well— Renée and her mother’s tony neighborhood and the latter’s rather uppity outlook versus the Kaushik’s Lodhi-some ways, that drips founts—and fonts—of potential horror for the mother.
Badhaai Ho‘s highlight, however, is Gajraj Rao. He’s magnificent as the husband, father, and the son, combining pressures of all these roles in an act that’s hopelessly likeable and loveable. He shuffles around facing life’s curveballs with the acute vision of one looking forward to his pension. And in a scene that’s a highlight, he simply shines. This happens just before the interval’s calling card: Rao’s Jeetender has just been told that there’s no better person than him to advise a boy who’s not been conceiving even after two years of marriage. (Another societal pressure right there in a never-ending cycle of expectations.) The actor’s face is all that is in the frame. It’s a 20-seconder, where he takes time to digest what he’s heard. And then, like the sun breaking through a mass of clouds, the light slowly spreads across his face before he’s all lit up, and then jauntily walks back to rejoin a group of drinking men, basking in a brief moment of propped up male ego. That sunshine moment stays with you—and warms you—for a long time. For Gajraj Rao, it’s a moment of understated triumph. For you, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug from a loved one. Go get it.
LICH ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
Badhaai Ho is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s a gentle, yet inescapable adult theme and the birds and bees taken head on.
Director Amit Ravindernath Sharma Running Time 2h 4min
Writers Akshat Ghildial, Jyoti Kapoor, Shantanu Srivastava
Stars Ayushmann Khurrana, Gajraj Rao, Neena Gupta, Sanya Malhotra, Surekha Sikri, Shardul Rana
Genres Comedy, Drama
Watch the trailer of Badhai Ho here: