Disclaimer: The following article contains spoilers from Badhaai Do.
3 years ago, when Ek Ladki Ko Dekha released, I remember discussing the movie at work, among friends, and even at home. We welcomed the film for opening a conversation and ushering in an era where queer love stories could finally, come out of the closet. We forgave the film its flaws (major or minor) because, finally, the idea of two women in love was not hilarious or sexual but simply, natural.
From Ek Ladki to Badhaai Do, queer stories have slowly, but surely, shed the tag of being relegated to 'independent, artsy' cinema, and taken over mainstream cinema.
And with Badhaai Do, Indian cinema goes one step ahead and takes pride in showcasing a story of the LGBTQ+ community with all its happiness and challenges.
As was clear from the trailer itself, Badhaai Do showcases a 'lavender marriage' - where Shardul (Rajkummar in fine form), who is gay, and Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar), who is a lesbian, enter into a marriage of convenience to escape the very real and relatable family pressure to get married.
From handling personal relationships (they continue to experience love and heartbreak while being confined to a marriage of convenience) to social challenges (from keeping up appearances to facing the pressure of procreation), Shardul and Sumi try to balance an unfortunate situation.
Because the alternative, of coming out to their families, is not only difficult but under the circumstances, almost impossible for them.
Through clever use of comedy (the wedding video is a masterpiece) that is hardly ever mean or ill-intentioned (a feat as rare as the lack of a remixed song in movies today - another thing Badhaai Do gets right, a brilliant soundtrack) and scenes that are emotional and sensitive but never melodramatic, Badhaai Do hits all the right notes.
Because it never restricts itself to just telling a 'queer' love story. As Sumi reminds her partner, Rimjhim (a brilliant Chum Darang who bowls you over with her natural screen presence), their sexual orientation is part of their life, not their whole life.
Thus Badhaai Do talks about family expectations, the pain of heartbreak, the dreams LGBTQ+ community isn't allowed to dream of (like marriage and parenthood), and the lost art of friendship (some of the film's most beautiful moments are when Shardul, who lives in even greater fear than Sumi about his identity, opens up to her and finds in her, a friend).
The film artfully intersperses humor with emotionally heavy moments, ensuring that the audience never breaks under the pressures, injustices, and challenges the LGBTQ+ community deals with on a daily basis. And yet, it does not hide the truth - only deals with it gently, awarding it the sensitivity and space it deserves.
As far as acting goes, the film boasts of an impressive supporting cast, and it was truly delightful to see Lovleen Mishra back in action, along with the ever-delightful Seema Pahwa, Sheeba Chaddha, and Nitish Pandey.
By now, it is no secret that Gulshan Devaiah has a cameo in the film, and he truly, lights up the screen when he appears, making you smile and gush with every mischievous smirk and dialogue. He is a surprise package like no other, and it's genuinely a delight to watch him weave magic on-screen.
Darang too, makes a stunning debut, taking complete charge of her character, her insecurities, and her chemistry with Bhumi appears effortless. Bhumi, like always, plays Sumi like the natural performer she is.
But Rajkummar, right from the start, reels you in with his clever mix of sensitivity and strength. As Shardul, he is at once, a 'puffed up' cop, preening about his muscle-building much the same way a peacock struts. At the same time, he constantly crumbles under the fear of his identity being disclosed because he fears the repercussions.
Of course, one would have loved people from the community to play these characters, but at least, the film's representation is as honest as it can be. And for that, the film's writer-director Harshavardhan Kulkarni, and fellow writers, Suman Adhikar and Akshat Ghildial definitely deserve a pat on the back.
In one of the many seemingly simple, hilarious, yet profound scenes from the film, Sumi and Shardul's interaction exposes an unsettling truth about our society - that chauvinism and misogyny are universally accepted, gender and sexual orientation no bar. But universal acceptance and the right to love, is sadly, still an uphill battle.
The film is littered with scenes that gently nudge the audience into realizing the many challenges that still plague the LGBTQ+ community. And yet, it never becomes preachy or dramatic. It simply tells the truth.
Perhaps that's the film's biggest win - a story told truthfully, about a community that not only deserves the right to live and love as they want but also deserves basic respect from society.
All images are screenshots from the trailer on YouTube, unless specified otherwise.