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Badhaai Ho

Rating: 3.5

October 18, 2018

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Sanya Malhotra, Gajraj Rao, Neena Gupta, Surekha Sikri, Shardul Rana, Sheeba Chaddha

Director: Amit Sharma

Facing up to the fact that one’s parents have a healthy sex life is a scenario most Indians would rather not confront. Because who thinks of their parents as sexual beings? When their bedroom is locked, mom’s probably changing. Or dad’s taking stock of the Black Labels he’s stashed away safely. What else could they be doing?

Badhaai Ho isn’t about a guy walking in on his parents ‘doing it’. No, that might be a bit much even by New Bollywood’s liberal standards. But it does present a scenario that proves nearly as awkward.

The Kaushiks are a middle-class family living practically cheek to jowl in a modest flat in Delhi’s Lodhi Colony. This is a family that’s instantly familiar: the mild-mannered man of the house Jeetu (Gajraj Rao), his long-suffering wife Priyamvada (Neena Gupta), and his overbearing mother (Surekha Sikri) who blames her daughter-in-law for everything that’s wrong in the world. There are his sons too, the rebellious school-going Gullar (Shardul Rana), and twenty-something Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana), from whose perspective the story unfolds.

When his mother becomes pregnant, it’s a cause of much embarrassment for Nakul, who is of marriageable age himself. He can barely put up with the constant sniggering from friends and neighbors. “Hawww, your middle-aged parents are having a baby!” “Hawww, your parents have sex!”

The film’s writers mine this premise for some sharp humor. There are plenty laugh-out-loud moments, especially in the first half, and a bulk of them involve Nakul’s acid-tongued granny, whose response to learning about the pregnancy is pure gold. Veteran actress Sikri is the film’s secret weapon; her cantankerous Amma the film’s most compelling character.

The other big strength of the film is the tender relationship between Nakul’s parents. Gajraj Rao is wonderful as a loving husband hard-pressed to demonstrate his affection for his wife openly. Neena Gupta brings real empathy to the part of a woman frequently made to feel like she’s solely responsible for this ‘shame’. Their chemistry as they navigate this unusual scenario is charming.

Badhaai Ho is on solid ground as long as it stays focused on this couple and the effect their actions have on the family. A joke about the virility of the father-to-be lands perfectly, as do those about using contraception. The dialogues too are crackling. But in the film’s second hour director Amit Sharma commits too much screen time to Nakul’s relationship with his girlfriend (Sanya Malhotra), and throws in a somewhat forced conflict that involves her mother (Sheeba Chaddha).

The film does become a tad sentimental in its final act, but I will admit those bits work too – more than once I had a lump in my throat. The makers tie up the loose ends nicely, and although emotion replaces comedy as the film draws to a close, it’s hard not to stay invested in these folks.

It’s the senior actors who take centrestage, but Ayushmann Khurrana does a bang-on job of playing yet another fellow trapped in a ‘mess’ not of his own making. He’s convincing at every stage, as his Nakul alternates between anger, anxiety, and confusion.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Badhaai Ho. It rings true for the most part, benefits from terrific casting across the board, and uses a winning combination of humor and genuine, unmistakable feeling to go to a delicate place where Hindi films have seldom gone before. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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