“Badhaai Do” Movie Review

“Being told love is forbidden does not kill love. It strengthens it”- LH Shen

While touted as a comedy-drama, it is a rather sad story that is profoundly told in a way that captures and maintains your attention. There are elements of surprises in this movie that will certainly make you laugh and occasionally cry. I found it very entertaining. It is not a BL story, but most assuredly it is a LGBTQ saga.

This story is complex but not complicated. It revolves around two people who happen to be attracted sexually to individuals of their same sex. However, they were born into a rather repressive culture that frowns on that type of behavior. One involves a police officer by the name of Shardul Thakur (Rajkummar Rao). A buff, tough looking character who works in a women’s police station. Living within a traditional Indian family milieu, the pressure for him to marry is constant and continuous. On-the-other-hand, there is Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar), a Physical Education instructor in a high school. Previously, she had a loving and intense relationship with a woman, but culture and traditions won out over love. Sumi is also facing the same familial pressures to get married.

Unfortunately, she makes a mistake of going on a dating site and regrettably hooks up with a guy dressed as a woman (who then tries to blackmail her). She goes to the police station and reports it to Shardul. Shardul finds out her real status and proposes what seems like an easy and uncomplicated arrangement. They will marry and have a ‘pretend’ marriage meanwhile freely exploring their own sexual desires. A lavender relationship.

For about a year, the marriage proves to be successful, for the most part. Shardul is able to maintain his relationship with a younger man. But that eventually fails. Sumi is able to be stress free. Eventually, she falls for a stunningly beautiful medical technician named RimJhim (Chum Darang). They form an intense bond with each other and a loving relationship forms. Before too long, RimJhim moves in with Sumi.

But of course, the ever-present nosy families begin to wonder why there is no child by now. There are some funny moments as the two try to wiggle around the thorny issue of no conception yet. Both families meddle deeper into their relationship. The decision by Shardul’s family is to send his mother to stay with the couple to find out why there is no child and what is really going on.

Having to patrol a gay rally one day, Shardul’s eyes lock onto someone who not only entices him but captures his heart. Guru Narayan (Guishan Devaiah) is an out and proud individual and advocates for gay causes in India. He is a middle-aged man who maintains a high profile but with an air of elegance and sophistication about him.

Trying to keep Shardul’s mother in the dark is a near impossible task and just when they think the ‘coast is clear’, she shockingly discovers RimJhim in bed with Sumi.

Here is where the story gets deep and intense with the cold, hard reality of ‘coming’ out’ to your family and society. And it tackles this reality with an unbelievable sense of pain, anguish, and yet does so with a heaping amount of dignity and heroism. One always hopes that the immediate family is going to be supportive of their son or daughter. But the sad reality is, that is not always the case. At least initially. Although there is despondency on both sides, the stronger torment is felt by the person who is different. He/she runs the risk of losing their family and familial support. This movie showcases that the pain and suffering being different means to both the individual and family. One particularly poignant moment is when Shardul finally reaches his limit of intolerance and living a lie to satisfy his family and tells them all that he is gay and all the blame on this sham marriage is not Sumi’s alone. While some walk out on him, all remain quiet, passive, and detached. Needing space, Shardul runs to his safe place to reflect, and anguish alone in his pain. Slowly, the door opens. He sees his mother, sheepishly, yet doggedly, walk to her son. No words are spoken except by him to say, “Sorry.” He wails and desperately needing a hug that perhaps only a mother can give; she embraces him. Words do not need to be spoken to get the meaning of this scene. It was so powerful. In this stillness, I was so moved. I cried and wept along with them. It was one of the most powerful scenes between a mother and son I have ever seen on screen. The person who the rest of the family portrayed as a buffoon is the one with the most understanding and has not only courage but tremendous fortitude to buck the established response and find her son to comfort him. Just astonishing. No one else has that kind of immediate courage. What a beautiful bond between mother and son. I wept even more.

This movie is replete with very moving scenes based on realities of having to deal with being obtuse yet trying to conform to a standard that is nearly impossible to adhere to at least intrinsically. Sumi’s reality of trying to deal with her family is particularly difficult and wounding. While not expecting understanding from her mother, she hopes for more understanding from her father. It was painful to watch her father struggle with wanting to, but simply could not quite do it at least initially. The juxtaposition of the roles of the mothers could not be more evident.

There, of course, is a lot more to this story, but this is best felt and seen as opposed to reading about it. There is a strong and beautiful connection to their story about their mutual desire to adopt a child. They had pursued this dream, knowing that RimJhum would also be a major player in the raising of any child. All that now had to be put on hold as the families realize the true nature of their relationship.

It is hard not to give some part of the ending away because it is so germane to the story. They decide to not divorce and remain in their lavender marriage to adopt a child. Somehow, that becomes, at least for some, the unifying cause for tolerance and inclusion. The families begin to see ‘love’ in its many forms and can feel its beauty take human form in the raising of another individual who otherwise might not have anyone. It softened the hearts of even the hardest among them.

The acting in this movie is simply superb. It was as if they were not acting but playing out some sort of reality role. Not wanting to sound patronizing, they were astonishingly genuine and real. The protagonists are not young and are not faced with the typical issues of coming-of-age angst. These performers portrayed real people with real issue and responses. It is hard to single out just one individual. But, as I have already mentioned, who stole my heart is Shardil’s mother, Baby (Sheeba Chaddha). Projected to be somewhat of a simpleton, she is thought by her family to be a bit dense and a dolt. I never got that impression, however. I always figured her behavior was calculated to be an irritant to the family and their rigged values. While complying with the rules and social pressures, she did so in her own way rather awkwardly sometimes, mainly as a duty with no real sense of sincerity. It was something that had to be done, but only with minimal compliance. This is no more evident than her breaking away from her family, with astonishing courage to comfort her son. She knows who had the greater pain; and it was not either her or the family. All she cared about was the well-being of her son. What a remarkable lady she is. Sheeba’s creation of this character gave me goosebumps and a warm feeling of acceptance; no matter what, she was going to support her son. Some terms that come to mind describing her are – personal bravery, courage, conviction, fortitude, and strength. And a lot of those expressions were done without words. She convinced me of her integrity to do what was right, no matter what the cost might be. The subtleties of her moves, the perplexed looks of puzzlement, and finally the intensity of a mother’s face is shown in all its wonderment. Kudos for an outstanding performance.

This movie keeps to its message very well. Somehow, even the Bollywood scene at the wedding seems to work and is entertaining as well as unique. Even the frivolity of parts of the movie does not diminish the dimension of the underlying suffering that goes on in this movie. These people are tortured and the constant need to lead a false reality has to be draining and robs them of being their true selves. Having to show yourself so compartmentalized takes a toll on your psyche. This story is quite powerful, and its message is clear. Times they are a changing and this movie will hopefully be the needle of change just a little in the right direction. For that, it deserves our praise and attention. Watch this movie; I think you will like it.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

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