Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt’s last film together Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania was powered by their incredible, crackling chemistry. It was a sweet film at best, a decidedlydesi, middle-class take on Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge set in the Indian heartland. A familiar tale of young love and parental opposition, but elevated by the sheer likeability of its two leads and the fact that they played off each other so well.
Which is why it’s surprising that their new film Badrinath Ki Dulhania keeps them apart for a chunk of its running time.
Badri (Varun) is a young fella from Jhansi, a lovable simpleton who wears his heart on his sleeve. He falls hard for Vaidehi (Alia), a spunky girl from Kota whom he meets at a wedding and to whom he promptly proposes marriage. But she’s got big career ambitions, and laughs in the face of his tenth-pass qualifications. She has no interest in marriage.
Badri pursues her relentlessly, and because Vaidehi is amused – although still not interested – we’re meant to regard this stalking as cute. Subsequently through a series of conceits, the film separates these protagonists, and the bits where they’re not together are a real drag. The film’s second half is less surefooted than the first, particularly when the plot moves to Singapore and the writing loses its bite. There are multiple scenes here that feel pointless and puzzling. Chief among these is a scene in which Badri is accosted by a gang of masked men, presumably gay, who feel him up and rip his shirt in passion.
Writer-director Shashank Khaitan evidently bites off more than he can chew. Badrinath Ki Dulhania isn’t merely interested in being a breezy rom-com. Admirably, it’s also a critique on the dowry system, and makes a strong case for a woman’s right to choose career over marriage. Unfortunately some of this is communicated in a tone that’s too heavy-handed, and as a result you’re easily bored.
The film’s supporting cast is very good, particularly Sahil Vaid as Badri’s best friend Somdev, but it’s the leads who’re left to carry the film. Despite being saddled with a character who doesn’t always behave responsibly, Alia imbues Vaidehi with honesty and vulnerability that makes it hard to hold a grudge against her. It’s Varun, however, who gets the complete arc, going from an entitled young man to one who understands and appreciates women. He plays the part with the just the right goofiness and innocence, and wins you over completely.
Badrinath Ki Dulhania has its heart in the right place, but its writing is often clumsy. There is a lot to appreciate here, but it’s also overlong and made me restless. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.