How Badrinath Ki Dulhania Tries (And Fails) To Be DDLJ

Pop Culture

How Badrinath Ki Dulhania Tries (And Fails) To Be DDLJ

Illustration: Akshita Monga

There’s a scene in Shashank Khaitan’s Badrinath Ki Dulhania where Varun Dhawan’s Badrinath Bansal and Alia Bhatt’s Vaidehi Trivedi get really really drunk. In that moment, the two are reminiscent of Bollywood’s most iconic pair: Raj and Simran from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. While in DDLJ, the point of the scene was to set up that Simran was physically safe with Raj, in Badrinath…, it is to establish Vaidehi’s emotional safety with Badri. What follows is a casual yet arresting role-reversal from DDLJ, where a dejected Badri proceeds to tell Vaidehi how he has to go home and marry someone he’s never met, in almost the same words that Simran used back in the day.

Unlike his first outing Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, where Khaitan’s DDLJ overtones were evident, in Badrinath Ki Dulhania, he’s rather judicious. There’s a babuji modelled on Amrish Puri in the film, who is a staunch believer in arranged marriages – but in a tweak on this familiar trope, he is the hero’s father. Then there is Vaidehi, the girl with a past, while Badri is the virgin. Similar to DDLJ, much of Badrinath Ki Dulhania is spent on the boy chasing the girl who refuses to take him seriously. Khaitan tasks Badri with the additional quest of earning Vaidehi’s respect.

Much of DDLJ’s iconic status rests on the lead pair of the film. It was Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol’s innocent yet passionate romance that shouldered the predictable plot to box-office domination. The two brought out the best in each other, in the same way Varun and Alia feed off each other’s infectiously comfortable presence as they delve deep into their characters in Badrinath Ki Dulhania.

As Badri, the illiterate entitled brat, Varun Dhawan channels brashness, vulnerability, nonchalance, and comic timing impeccably. For her part, Alia is sincere and flawless as the ambitious dulhania with a mind of her own. Together, they light up the screen with their effortless camaraderie. In their third outing together after Student of the Year and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, Varun and Alia appear more attuned to each other and the familiarity shines through in their performances. Khaitan tries consciously experimenting with the setting and the plot to differentiate Badrinath… from Humpty Sharma…, but it is only his lead actors who bring about a fresh zing to the film.

Unlike Raj, whose rogue-ish idiocies could more or less be excused, Badri isn’t consistently likeable.

Take for instance, the small scene in the second half, where Badri and Vaidehi share a tender moment gazing at each other, their eyes full of longing. They let their gaze stay for a while before looking away with flushed cheeks. They’re both inebriated and madly attracted to each other. No words are exchanged, but everything is conveyed. It’s one of those scenes every Bollywood rom-com has exploited to the hilt and yet, watching Varun and Alia bring an endearing intensity to the moment makes it seem like nothing you’ve seen before. If Badrinath Ki Dulhania is anything to go by, the Varun-Alia coupling is easily Bollywood’s next SRK-Kajol.

Yet, it is this ambition, this desperate need to be considered this generation’s DDLJ, that proves to be Badrinath Ki Dulhania’s undoing. Three years ago, Khaitan failed in trying to recreate the classic in Humpty Sharma…, depending heavily on an unoriginal plot and lazy storytelling. In 2017, he shows a little more promise, riding on the sparkling coupling, but confuses it with the film’s mishandling of social issues such as discrimination against the girl child, patriarchy, dowry, and women’s empowerment.

To preach these progressive values, the film utilises more than a few regressive techniques such as physical intimidation and stalking to drive home its point, before making the hero realise the error of his ways. Unlike Raj, whose rogue-ish idiocies could more or less be excused, Badri isn’t consistently likeable. His violent tantrums – one of which leads to him abducting Vaidehi – are difficult to sidestep. And then there are Vaidehi’s constant justifications of his dangerously violent behaviour. It sets out to be a portrayal of how men in small town India behave: If in DDLJ, Raj redefined the aspirational lover of the 1990s, Badri is a poster-boy for how every lover should not behave.

What propelled DDLJ forward was a feeling that even though the lead characters were young, naïve, and not ready for the world, they were undeniably completely right for each other. Badrinath Ki Dulhania falters in its path in nailing this sentiment.

You’re left wondering on more than one occasion if Badri is really the right choice for Vaidehi. Wouldn’t her life be much better if he were out of it? It is impossible to doff your hat to a classic when there is such a serious character flaw in one of the protagonists. Or then again, maybe we’re allowed to have only one DDLJ in a lifetime.