Stop right now and do yourself a favour. Go see Badhaai Ho. You will come out smling but also deeply moved by the artless charm of that great big universe known as the Indian Muddle Class, and I do mean ‘muddle’ where so many contradictory cultural, religious and political forces co-exist uneasily and yet without friction.
Some such controlled chaos defines the world that the Kaushik family inhabits with such fluent ownership. We’ve seen an abundance of commendable comedies on the Delhi’s confounded middleclass such as Dibakar Bannerjee’s Khosla Ka Ghosla and Habib Faisal’s Do Dooni Chaar. But none so delectably oblivious of its responsibilities of pinning down the characters to their cultural canvas.
We meet the family….rather we run into them as though their existence does not depend on our attention. This is the hallmark of above-ordinary cinema. The characters must seem to exist from long before the camera was switched on. I don’t think the Kaushik family knows or cares about Sanu Vargghese’s ruminative camera work.
Gajraj Rao, an actor of enormous skills I never had the chance to take so seriously until now, plays the patriarch with a problem. He has just impregnated his wife (Neena Gupta, restrained and effective) at an age when parents are supposed to be celibates. Elder son Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana, owning the sexually challenged middleclass space) can’t take the jibes and snide remarks from friends and has a massive showdown with his girlfriend’s elitist mother (Sheeba Chadha, so in-control that I forgot she was acting).
Then there is the family’s grandmother played by the firebrand Surekha Sikri who lights up every moment of her screen-time like a 4-year old who has just discovered the joys of playing with fire.
This is exactly what director Amit Sharma and his writers Shantanu Shrivastava, Akshay Gildial and Jyoti Kapoor seem to be doing in this film. The risk of turning a story on belated pregnancy into a farce or peachy (like B R Ishara’s Kaagaz Ki Nao) looms large over this exceptionally unconventional comedy.
The director swerves the plot neatly away from all innuendo to capture with sullen satire a family coping with an unexpectedly outrageous crisis.
Badhaai Ho is a work of wondrous writing and incredible acting. Both aspects of the film are so unassuming in their impact that the untrained eye may miss the skills that go into scripting and performing a film that questions our collective hypocrisy when we are scandalized by the thought of our parents having sex.
In this film the narrative is supremely self-satisfied though never smug. The characters do not mouth lines that they ought to. Rather they say what they have to say when and if they want to. In a sequence after sex, Ayushmann asks his girlfriend (Sanya Malhotra), “Is this something parents should be doing?”
He gets his answer sooner rather than later. By the time Ayushmann’s Nakul gets the answer , we are completely and unconditionally immersed in the goings-on , our heart reaching out to the family as it comes to terms with the fact that the parents are not morally wrong in producing a child at an age when they should be grandparents.
Badhaai Ho is treasurehouse of commendable performances. When Gajraj Rao bursts into ‘Babu’ English with his son’s girlfriend I chuckled at the linguistic pretension of all the patriarchs of the word who equate the English language with upward mobility. Early on I decided this film qualified as a masterpiece for its solid robust grip over the workingclass’ anxieties. Towards the end when Neena Gupta’s character skips the baby shower and goes straight to labour, I felt I was a part of the Kaushik family. When the family younger son Gullar (Shardul Rana) bursts into on seeing his newly-born baby sister I wanted to comfort him.
To tell him it’s okay. I understand.