Director: Shilpi Dasgupta
Cast: Sonakshi Sinha, Varun Sharma, Annu Kapoor, Badshah
Khandaani Shafakhana is an astonishingly boring film that takes almost 140 minutes to prove that a social message is useless if it isn’t communicated in a monologue by a male superstar. I don’t know much about Badshah and his North Indian rap songs (except that one time I drunk-danced to ‘DJ Wale Babu’ in Greece), but his presence seems to define a story that obsessively features a female medical representative named Baby Bedi (Sonakshi Sinha) who inherits her uncle’s infamous sex clinic. As celebrity patient Gabru “Ghatack” – which I am hoping is in no way a nod to Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak by first-time director Shilpi Dasgupta – Badshah sportingly plays a macho erectile-dysfunction sufferer in this ‘family-friendly sex movie’. It’s a nice move in context of the musician’s career and the commentary (imagine him going “baby baat toh kar lo” to de-alienize sex education) this film offers.
But it’s a hopelessly lazy move by the writer (Gautam Mehra) in context of the film’s narrative – the concept of a Punjabi girl running a sex clinic in a notoriously crudish country is virtually nullified by the fact that she can’t bring about an iota of awareness if Badshah doesn’t endorse her clinic. Instead of meticulously exploring a woman’s struggle in what is considered a seedy but largely mysterious male-dominated field, the makers simply romanticize her lost battle – at least 89 scenes involve relatives and onlookers expressing variations of “hawww!” at Baby Bedi – and present her with the kind of device that suggests you are nothing if an influencer doesn’t retweet your noble words. Your talent and your awakening count for zilch. Which can be true, too, but then your journey is anything but film-worthy. If you think I sound repetitive by now, wait till you watch Khandaani Shafakhana.
The problem is, unlike Ayushmann Khurrana’s characters who set about changing only their immediate surroundings, Baby Bedi (if I write the name enough, it might just grow on us) is saddled with the broader Akshay-Kumar-ish pressure of cleansing the nation overnight. Forget a locality or town, India wants to know. It’s a bit much, even if you consider that Sonakshi Sinha’s trademark furrowed-brow expression is tailor-made for a character that spends the whole film reacting to hypocritical Indians. There are a few decent touches: White pigeons (a yesteryear Bollywood symbol for horny couples) in an abandoned sex clinic (which in turn looks like Devdas’ drinking chamber), a visual transition from a semen-filled bottle to ghee-laced paratha, Varun Sharma mistaking ‘feminism’ for ‘feminine,’ Badshah swatting a fly during one of Sinha’s several attempts at goofy-Punjabi-girl humour, and the (translated) innuendo “Don’t stop blowing till the soup reaches the temperature you prefer”.
But there’s a deeper problem with a film that is so obsessed with its own texture and detailing – you can almost hear the tick marks on the “quirky small-town comedy” checklist; on an unrelated note, the director of Fukrey is the film’s creative producer – that it completely forgets about pacing and…intent. It more or less suffers from the debut-director syndrome. Dasgupta, at times, seems desperate to make an impression: Moments go on for an eternity, frames are crammed with talkative faces, the clean camerawork is at odds with the cultural fury, and most scenes (notably a baby shower, Baby Bedi’s unfunny anecdotes, the courtroom climax) feel interminable because of how they are designed to showcase the craft rather than the film’s nervous energy. By the time many of the sequences involving Sinha conclude, you often forget how they started. It’s only natural for a technically competent filmmaker to be in love with everything she has shot, but staying for too long on a beat runs the risk of totally overturning the tone of the film: Weird slow-burning dramedy or comatose social comedy? There’s even a playback song that scores Baby Bedi’s magical transformation into a medicine (looks like imli chutney) maker.
It’s only natural for a technically competent filmmaker to be in love with everything she has shot, but staying for too long on a beat runs the risk of totally overturning the tone of the film
As with every other Punjab-based Hindi film, when there is no explanation for a character’s emotions, “Rab” is invoked. When in doubt, turn to Rab. Or Badshah. Or Annu Kapoor being Bollywood’s favourite progressive uncle. I’m thinking of a clever innuendo to end this review with. But that might only validate a shy film that thinks uttering the word ‘sex’ a few hundred times is reason enough to admire its cause. The fact is that there is no real insight into Indian prudity other than tut-tutting locals and an angry-bird protagonist. So I must quit while I’m ahead. If only Khandaani Shafakhana had done the same. At a concept level.