The protagonist in Shashank Khaitan's "Badrinath ki Dulhaniya" is an unlikely hero and hard to like. Badrinath Bansal is a rich, spoilt brat who discovers he has a spine in the last five minutes of the film and stands up to his dictatorial father only under the influence of alcohol.
His heroine, on the other hand, is made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Unlike other girls in her neighbourhood, Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt) would rather have a career than marry despite constant pressure from her family. When Badri visits Kota from Jhansi and sees the girl, he immediately falls for her and is convinced that she's the one he wants to marry. When his elder brother inquires if he has asked Vaidehi for her opinion, he replies: "Why should I ask her?"
Badri's worldview on women is obviously influenced by his father (Rituraj Singh), who thinks they should stay at home and submit to men. When his father asks for dowry, Badri would rather help the bride's father get the money than question the practice itself. It is only when he sees Vaidehi at work, far away from the patriarchal mindset that he has grown up with, that our hero has a light-bulb moment – women can work and earn their living and no one is the worse for it.
The first hour when Badri woos Vaidehi is an easy watch as the chemistry between the pair takes centre-stage. Post-interval when the conflict is established, the film falters because Khaitan seems afraid to disrupt the carefully constructed narrative of progressive thought that Bollywood is trying to project of late.
Unfortunately, the progressiveness that "Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya" claims to espouse is skewed heavily towards the men. Vaidehi does get a career, but in Jhansi and not in Singapore, where she first moves for work. Badri's father goes from wanting to kill Vaidehi for ditching his son to easily accepting her after one outburst. If only years of patriarchy and regressive mindsets were destroyed that easily.
Even if the ideology of the film is shaky, the treatment is not – Khaitan packs in lots of easy humour and smart dialogue in 139 minutes, and Dhawan gets a lot of the good lines. But it is difficult to accept that these two characters live in Kota and Jhansi, because they sound like they belong to the posh Mumbai suburbs of Bandra and Juhu.
In the same vein, Khaitan is unable to shed his privileged skin when he attempts to narrate the story about small towns where women and men are prevented from deciding the course of their own lives by a society that is still steeped in regressive considerations of caste and gender. On the surface, "Badrinath ki Dulhaniya" is funny and smart, but when you get to the heart of it, the film doesn't quite hold up.