U/A: Comedy drama
Dir: Amit Ravindernath Sharma
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao
I walked into this film quite a few minutes late. Or rather at the exact point, which in screenwriting jargon will be referred to as end of Act I — when the set-up is complete, and the film’s essential ‘goal’/point gets ‘locked’/revealed. Which, if you’ve seen this pic’s promo, you will know is the fact that a fairly old, post middle-aged couple, who should be expecting grandchildren by now, realise that they, in fact, are accidentally going to become parents all over again.
The son, a working professional (Ayushmann Khurrana) is deeply embarrassed by this news. The father (Gajraj Rao), a ticket collector in Northern Railways, doesn’t have much of a say, although it does appear that he feels secretly accomplished! The mom doesn’t wish to abort the child. Neena Gupta, 59, plays this pivotal part, in a rare mainstream Hindi movie that is pretty much centred on aged folk.
I’m told Tabu was originally approached for this lead role. She recommended Gupta instead — a hugely under-rated/under-utilised actor, who’s probably still remembered more for her films in the ’80s (Saath Saath, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro), or her studiedly matured work on television (from Buniyaad, down to Saans). Given how she viscerally warms your heart, tapping into the adorably desi beats of a quiet, under-stated, caring, albeit expectant mother; one could recommend the movie entirely for Gupta alone.
The one who deserves, “Badhaai ho,” or congrats, as it were, is Khurrana, of course. On one hand he has a stellar suspense-thriller, Andhadhun (that released less than two weeks ago), still playing at a neighbourhood theatre, while this one is likely to be simultaneously loved, although it is more in line with his other sex-related, slice-of-life comedies: Vicky Donor (2012; sperm-donation), Dum Lagake Haisha (2015; overweight wife), Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017; male impotency).
In that sense, Badhaai Ho, on late pregnancy, is just as funny, and as much fun; even as the point of the picture might seem progressively belaboured. The film isn’t obviously so much about Khurrana’s character. But there is enough meat and back-story for him to ace it all the way, shine on with a swag, joined as he is by an incredible ensemble cast — his posh girlfriend (Sanya Malhotra), the boy playing his brother, even the fellow who bullies him in school; or the completely OTT granny (Surekha Sikri) — turning this light-weight shindig into an intrinsically Indian relationship drama, with a gamut of emotions (only on occasion descending into melodrama), going slightly deeper into delicate equations between father, mother and their sons, grandmother and her daughter-in-law; and indeed the big, fat Indian family.
At its core, the central theme/concept isn’t wholly original though. Back in the day, Bud Yorkin’s Never Too Late (1965, starring Maureen O’Sullivan, Paul Ford) was based on the same thought/premise, which is a pretty thin one to begin with, if you ask me. But it’s really the performances in this picture, more so the writing — that seeks so much delight in the Delhi-Meerut mundane — that lifts the screenplay (by first-timer, Akshat Ghildial; waited around in the closing credits to jot down the name), and competent direction (by Amit Ravindernath Sharma), that makes this altogether a first-rate comedy of lower-middle-class manners.
You notice some stray messages on the duality of the colloquial-Hindi speaking boys in a supposedly sophisticated, English-speaking world. You sort of smile at the fairly casual observation on how kids inevitably refer to school-mates (seniors, in particular) by their full name (as if it’s a roll-call): “Sumit Malik”! You marvel at how the actors get their Meeruthiya twang, and the specifically ‘theth’ (rustic) humour, so frickin’ right, while so many movies, set in the same space, sound Haryanvi instead. The sum of these asides is clearly greater than the whole. Totally regret having turned up late. Will certainly watch the movie’s first few minutes, at some point. You should catch all of it, in the meanwhile, for sure.
Watch Badhaai Ho Trailer