‘Badhaai Ho’ Shows Older People With Sexual Desires. The Pregnancy Is Besides The Point.
Badhaai Ho is an undeniable box office hit, earning Rs. 50 crores (and counting), and it’s difficult to find even one bad review. Most people are applauding the plot-driven film for its handling of the taboo subject of sex, especially when it comes to older couples. Centered around a quintessential middle-class Delhi family, a 50-something mother of two gets pregnant, and chaos ensues. Director Amit Ravindernath Sharma uses the situation to portray a pretty nuanced array of reactions to the news, from nosy neighbors and disapproving relatives, to the dadi’s ire and the sons’ embarrassment.
For mainstream Bollywood, this kind of storyline is rare, at best. Love is for the young and beautiful, people who look good as they follow carefully choreographed dance moves or stare longingly into the distance. We don’t usually get to see parents like Jitendar (Gajraj Rao) and Priyamvada (Neena Gupta) share a kind of intimacy that arguably overshadows their young son Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana) and his girlfriend.
And while the film focuses on the pregnancy, what actually makes it so progressive is that the pregnancy wasn’t planned. Getting Indian audiences to watch a movie about an accidental pregnancy is one thing, but getting them to acknowledge the underlying cause — that even in their 50s, couples can be sexually active, after the ‘duty’ of bearing children is done — well, that’s massive.
The film is carried by the spark between Rao and Gupta’s characters, their surreptitious glances and stolen moments. The scene soon after the opening of the film, which leads to the ensuing situation, is incredibly intimate. While the rain pounds away at the windows, Jitendar reads his poetry out to his wife, as they lie in bed. Their love isn’t cheesy or overdone in the way that only Bollywood can manage, but something slightly more real — and honestly, it’s what makes the movie.
Their relationship is held, almost in contrast, to their 20-something son, who’s dating his colleague, Renee (played by a capable, but slightly boring, Sanya Malhotra). This is the thing though — the younger couple’s onscreen chemistry is nothing compared to Rao and Gupta’s. A song sequence switches between montages of the older couple attending a wedding, and Nakul and his girlfriend, who have a house to themselves. But the way Gupta’s character locks eyes with her husband, and the looks they share, are far more convincing than the other two’s attempt at raucous sexual energy (and awkward pillow throwing).
Can we also state, categorically, how incredibly annoying Khurrana’s Delhi boy act is? For two-thirds of the film, he balks at the idea of his mother’s pregnancy, having a fit every time he’s reminded of it. I get it; he’s supposed to represent a regular son’s reaction to this situation — although, I don’t actually think a 10-year(+) gap between kids is that uncommon in India, as Rao himself agrees in an interview — but man, every time Khurrana gets on screen, it’s very hard not to roll your eyes.
In fact, while Nakul is getting it on with Renee, he even stops to moralize, asking “Yeh bhi koi mummy papa ki karne wali cheez hai kya?” (Is this something moms and dads also do?) Of course this is treated as a punchline, rather than the strange de-sexualizing gaze with which we, as a society, view older women particularly. Thankfully, Renee later responds to this by asking him whether, if they get married and stay together for decades, he wouldn’t expect them to have sex either. Unsurprisingly, Delhi boy is stumped, clearly having never dreamed this logic would be applicable to him.
On the surface, Badhaai Ho is an endearing family comedy, albeit with an unconventional plot. But if we really think hard about what this film is actually asking of us, we’d find that it’s a lot more ground-breaking than the audiences at the sold-out shows might allow themselves to acknowledge. It’s asking us to view people as sexual beings, no matter their age. In a country where ‘good news’ from newly married couples is always wanted, Badhaai Ho is a subtle way of reminding the more prudish of us that an accidental pregnancy implies a different motive entirely.