'Badrinath Ki Dulhania' is a horrible movie that, despite being recently released, is able to convey the mysoginistic & sexist values of generations past. What makes the movie inherently dangerous is that it attempts to package itself as a fun filled rom-com with likeable actors and catchy tunes, while depicting ideals that are stunningly disrespectful to woman, and even some men.
'Badrinath Ki Dulhania' gives us a male lead character that is the amalgamation of every damaging male stereotype depicted in movies with a male gaze.
Rating: 1 Out Of 5
'Badrinath Ki Dulhania' is yet another modern day love story that begins as anything but. Set in small towns of Rajasthan, the story sees lovable rascal Badri (Varun Dhawan) fall for Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt) and spend the better part of the first half of the film trying to woo her; as is the case in a typical Bollywood movie. Offering to help her find a groom for her older, therefore depreciating, sister, Badri hopes that the time together will make Vaidehi see the light, towards him of course. So far par for course in any typical romantic comedy. But with one crazy twist.
Never once, in the entire 139 minute runtime of the film, does Vaidehi ever show any glimmer of feelings towards Badri, that can in any way be mistaken for love. Except for maybe one song montage, after she reluctantly agrees to marry him, so her sister can get married as well.
The 'love story' of the movie is never that. The film is better described as the story of how one woman's life is intruded upon by unwanted advances from an entitled man-child, and how she is emotionally and physically pressured into a life with him, out of pity and helplessness.
But to be fair, the first half of the film is pretty generic and fun. And in a way, even harmless in the sense that it's not any better or worse than the usually misdirected Bollywood movie that portrays love as being the relentless pursuit of the girl until she gives in. We've got some great song numbers, innocent enough banter that raises some eye brows, but never overtly terrible. It's during these parts that Badri's entitled nature seems comedic; he is oblivious to Vaidehi's rebukes and insults towards him, which are funny because they're at his expense. Which is the only glimmer of self aware-ness that the movie expresses.
But even within those scenes, the film's tone deaf attitudes depicting harassment towards women and the very real issues that women face in everyday life in India, are woefully apparent. A scene set on a public bus sees Badri trying to convince Vaidehi why she should be with him, claiming he'll still marry her despite her previously failed relationship. How noble. But during this scene, a good samaritan attempting to help the girl from being harassed by this clearly boorish thug, is reduced to being the butt of a punchline.
This scene exists in a film as a comedy set up in a country where one of the most brutal attacks on a girl occurred on a public bus not 5 years ago.
'Badrinath Ki Dulhania' gives us a male lead character that is the amalgamation of every damaging male stereotype depicted in movies with a male gaze. Badri stalks Vaidehi in the beginning, not unlike other love stories that have started similarly like 'Saathiya' (2002) or every Salman Khan movie. But Badri also tries to emotionally blackmail her parents into accepting a marriage proposal for himself. When that fails, he then attempts to extort her hand in marriage, by sweetening the pot by finding a groom for her sister as well. And through out all this, Vaidehi has maintained her refusal to not only to marry him, but marriage in general, in favour of a career. But who cares what the woman wants.
Vaidehi on the other hand is a refreshing portrayal of a woman for whom dating and marriage are far from her mind. The film goes far enough to ensure that they never romanticize or waiver her plans, even after the entry of the dashing hero in her life. Besides mentioning that 'he's a nice guy', never does Vaidehi ever even imply any other feelings towards him.
Despite the entire world conspiring against her, she finally does pursue her career in a very Hollywood rom-com plot twist, only to have Badri's destructive and toxic personality threaten to destroy her opportunity at that career until she, essentially, gives in. And this is where her entire depiction of a strong willed modern woman is undermined, when she ultimately does just that; gives in. It's the longest and most tragic chase in Bollywood love story history.
'Badrinath Ki Dulhania' attempts to be feminist and progressive, (somehow) but then becomes regressive with mixed messages that stun and awe in the worst possible ways. Badri is allowed to be blatantly mysoginistic, and the onus falls on his upbringing and paternal influence. He's allowed to be violent and physically abusive, and that's depicted as a symbol of his love. His violent nature is even justified as being Vaidehi's fault... for hurting his feelings. The one time that Badri even acknowledges that she should have a career and life of her own, is when he finds out her salary, and is wholly impressed by that one fact alone.
Dhawan's natural charm is intentionally used to make a character that is so vile, loveable. Whereas Bhatt's choice of progressive roles thus far in her career makes her involvement in 'Badrinath Ki Dulhania' a massive disappointment.
While love stories and the romantic comedy genre in Bollywood is always used as the over all story, the premise for each movie has a unique plot that separates one love story from the other. The conflict in 'Badrinath Ki Dulhania', the premise that the movie hinges on, IS the disparity between the treatment of men and women, that can be broadly applied to South Asian society in general. And the way the film portrays this disparity, by being further perpetuating it, is a little mind boggling to watch on screen.
Even from a fictional and entertaining perspective, the movie fails, as there is no apparent reason that the audience should ever be cheering for this couple to end up together. After attempting to kidnap her, (no, seriously) threatening to choke her in public, starting a drunken brawl with security guards, being arrested and unable to leave the country pending a court hearing, and again assaulting her male friend for merely being seen with her... Badri is still able to make Vaidehi fall in love with him in the third act by... not doing those things.
The bar for being a good man in this relationship is so low, that Vaidehi forgives everything Badri has done, his nature, his way of thinking and his actions, simply because he is forced, through the revocation of his passport, to act like an actual human being while in a foreign land. That's all it takes. If anything, Badri's actions from the first half to the second, should have completely caused Vaidehi to change her mind even about the 'nice guy' sentiment she felt earlier, much less just fall head over heels in love all of a sudden.
'Badrinath Ki Dulhania' is quite possibly the most regressive Bollywood movie ever made; more so because it packages misogyny, sexism and relationship abuse in a flashy and rhythmic movie with fan favourite actors behaving terribly.