Director: Shilpi Dasgupta
Cast: Sonakshi Sinha, Badshah, Varun Sharma
Somewhere inside Khandaani Shafakhana is a sparkling film about a small-town girl who inherits her uncle's sex clinic. After her father's death, Baby Bedi is struggling to support her family. She's spirited and hard-working but besieged by mercenary relatives, an affectionate but lazy brother and a dead-end job. And then, out of the blue, her estranged uncle, a Unani hakim, bequeaths her his sex clinic.The clinic is located on prime real estate. Selling it would solve Baby's problems. However, the will dictates that she needs to run it first for six months. We're in Hoshiarpur, Punjab where people can't even bring themselves to say the word 'sex'. So how does a young, single woman make this prickly situation work?
It's a lovely idea but debutante director Shilpi Dasgupta and writer Gautam Mehra make a hash of it. The template for tackling taboo subjects with humor has been set by Vicky Donor and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. You combine naturalistic textures with solid performances and crackling writing. Khandaani Shafakhana gets only the first one right.The film has an authentic ambience. DOP Rishi Punjabi ably captures the narrow bazaar lanes covered with thick electricity wires and beautiful latticework windows and the sprawling fields of Punjab. Stray moments are genuinely funny – like a roadside hakim who, while concocting a dubious-looking jadi booti mixture, declares that it will turn 'kamzor chewing gum into Singham.' Or the character of Gabru Ghatak, a homegrown rockstar. Badshah, making his acting debut, injects a dose of much-needed energy into the film. Gabru lives in flashy metallic jackets and says lines like: 'Everything is image' or 'I respect jazba'. That's a keeper.
Baby figures out Unani medicine in a few months – before you know it, she can identify diseases simply by looking into people's eyes
But the rest of Khandaani Shafakhana is a slog. The film takes forever to get started. We spend too much time getting to know Baby's tough circumstances. And the tonality is all over the place. The film wants to be funny but the writing is too weak and the feeble jokes are underlined with loud background music, cueing us to laugh. The film also wants to deliver a serious message about the importance of being open about sex – so entire scenes play out like public service announcements, in which characters espouse the cause. There's also little logic – I don't know much about Unani medicine but surely it's a fairly complex science. Baby figures it out in a few months – before you know it, she can identify diseases simply by looking into people's eyes. We also see her in a lab coat mixing medicines.
Khandaani Shafakhana puts too much pressure on Sonakshi Sinha. She is in almost every frame of the film. We see her in close-up – literally and figuratively. But her performance is largely confined to pouting and scowling. The moments of heartfelt emotion, mostly in the scenes between her and her mother, are few and far between. It's a pleasure to see the wonderful Nadira Babbar back on screen but again, there isn't enough meat in the role. Varun Sharma repeats his trademark act of bumbling, foolish sidekick. Annu Kapoor as the English-spouting lawyer seems to be having some fun. As does Rajesh Sharma as the judge who presides over the climactic courtroom showdown. This is when the film really comes alive but it's too late.
Shilpi Dasgupta is a graduate of the Film and Television Institute. Her student project Mangali – An Exorcism received a special mention at the National Film Awards. How does a CV like that lead to a tepid film like this? Hopefully better things will come!