When Malayalam filmmaker T. K. Rajeev Kumar explored the stigmatized subject of geriatric pregnancy in his 1994 film Pavithram, he probably didn’t think of the humour it could elicit. The leading man’s mother gets pregnant and the film takes to a mournful trajectory, making way for a highly sentimental narrative arc. In stark contrast, director Amit Ravindernath Sharma’s Badhaai Ho deals with the same predicament but the tone is part-humorous and part-emotional. Set in a middle-class Delhi family, the film examines how a khush khabri (good news) can prove not to be one, given the stark ageism that the Indian society is beleaguered with.
Employed at a product company, Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana) is of the ‘marriageable’ age in Indian parlance. He is dating one of his colleagues Renee (Sanya Malhotra) who is a notch above him in terms of conventional social standing. The class difference between the lovers is something that the film projects right in the beginning. If hosting a game of housie for the neighbourhood ladies is one of Nakul’s default duties, Renee’s house sees plush parties with exotic wine and gladiolus flowers for decor. Still, when an unusual dilemma strikes Nakul’s family, everything goes for a toss. His conservative family does not know how to react. Renee’s progressive mom is no different. “This family is a circus I don’t want to buy tickets to.” The lady immediately adds despite having met only one member of the troupe. The director chooses to take a linear storytelling pattern which is quite an asset in the initial portions but the freshness and intrigue wear off towards the finale.
For starters, Badhaai Ho germinates from a very basic quirk. It is funny and uncomfortable for adult children to see their moms pregnant. Howsoever evolved are you as a person, a certain level of embarrassment is part and parcel if such a scenario emerges. This rings right for everyone in the family, be it the father or the elderly members, in their own individual ways. In the latter half of the film, director Sharma, along with his writer Akshat Ghildial, attempts to simplify the case for each of them. Now, this is something that had to happen in one way or the other. What’s next? What is the conflict after the family members come to terms with the supposedly embarrassing state of affairs? Badhaai Ho limps to maintain interest levels towards the latter reels as predictability hits it like a truck. There is an attempt to create high voltage drama with Nakul and Renee’s romance being a device but that is not enough to give the film a solid closing.
Having said that, Badhaai Ho is not a weak feature film by any standards. It knows the people it deals with – bully teenagers, imbecile local friends of the leading man, judgmental relatives and many more. I also loved the way Sharma incorporates yesteryear songs and flocks of birds to mirror the emotions of his leads. The first half sees a good dose of humour sprinkled all over to make sure that the narrative isn’t issue-heavy. The second hour focusses more on individual closures, comfortably switching to an emotional route aided effectively by a set of fantastic actors. The supporting players especially deliver knockout performances. Neena Gupta as Priyamvada is studied in her silences with her body language and expressive eyes doing a great deal of talking. Surekha Sikri is a scene-stealer as the adorable grandparent whilst Gajraj Rao lends great colours to what is the most awkward character in the film. Even the fringe players come with remarkable authenticity and the Delhi and Meerut that we see in Badhaai Ho feel extremely lived-in. Needless to add, the main leads pitch in a fabulous show as well. Even though it is already a cliché to see Ayushmann Khurrana play the quintessential Delhi guy, the actors lends gravitas to some of the most poignant scenes in the film – his confrontation with Renee’s mother (Sheeba Chadda) and the warm hug that he shares with his mom ending his resentment are among the film’s deeply felt moments.
Released in a festive period, Badhaai Ho can also prove instrumental in eliminating the stigma around geriatric pregnancies. The film – though unlike a PSA – tells us how a woman who is likely to be over 50 can deliver a perfectly healthy child. It addresses several ancillary areas around the concept such as embarrassment, the need for contraception, the future prospects of the newborn baby and more. And by the time we are convinced that all the humour had gone completely out of the window, Badhaai Ho closes with a crackling one-liner from the grandmother. For sure, this is a ride that families will effortlessly straddle through with a smile on their faces and a couple of sobs in places. Zero reasons to complain, I say.
Rating: ★★★ 1/2