Khandaani Shafakhana Hindi Movie Review
Sex comedies have always been a surprisingly easy sell for the otherwise conservative Indian audiences, maybe because we all secretly desire to talk about the reproductive process and its pleasures openly but we're either too embarrassed or surrounded by people who are too easily embarrassed. It's just easier to laugh at sex on a big screen in a dark theatre than taking a risk and speaking to a fellow human about what ails you in the bedroom.
But Baby Bedi is not like most of us. She grew up with a dream to become a doctor but her life has been relegated to being a saleswoman for a herbal medicine brand. That is, till she inherits her dead uncle's sex clinic and its share of loyal patients. What does she do when her only chance of fulfilling her dream is at odds with our society's inexplicable aversion to sex? Sell sex, of course.
Debutante director Shilpi Dasgupta's film isn't a sex comedy but a comedy about the sexual conventions that prevail even in 2019. Following in the heels of films such as Shubh Mangal Savdhaan and Badhai Ho in putting the conversation about sex at the centre of attention, Dasgupta's earnest efforts in trying to educate and entertain at the same time suffer due to a lack of clever writing and an overlong duration, with Khandaani Shafakhana never managing to reach the point of climax that it so desires.
The setup of the film, a girl selling sex education and medicines for sexual ailments, allowed for a deeper dissection of our people's compulsive need to hide the fact that sex exists and the kind of sexual problems that people are dealing with without even knowing that there's a fix for it out there, if only they stretched out their hands and asked rather than cover it up. Instead, writer Gautam Mehra falls into the same sex comedy trap of laughing at sex every time there's even a little bit of moral discomfort raised amongst the audience by Dasgupta's ability to hold a scene and its theme.
So, for every scene that does manage to appeal to you with its honest, if straightforward, attempt at talking about something serious and asking the right questions of the viewers, there's another scene that undoes all that hard work instantly for the sake of a few cheap laughs that tread the same sex comedy ground. Gautam Mehra's screenplay never manages to string together enough genuine moments of heartfelt honesty to ever create the impact it so wishes to.
It does help to have a woman at the centre of the film and a woman behind the camera to direct, which gives the film a new dimension compared to other films that have tread the same ground. After all, a man going around on a rickshaw announcing the services of his sex clinic is angering at best but a woman doing so is downright scandalous. The fallout from following your 2019 dreams in a regressive, 1950's-like society is much greater for a woman and Dasgupta's handling of Baby's dreamy-eyed ambitious side in the face of massive odds is buoyed by her personal empathy for such struggles that so many women face living in a patriarchy.
Unfortunately, by the time the emotional upheaval in Baby's life arrives and she can see no way out of the mess, the audience might just be beyond caring. The screenplay of the film has been stretched so thin by this point due to lack of any actual plot progression, it's impossible to keep your attention on the screen as a nondescript sad song plays just to segue into the film's climax. And this climax is anything but pleasurable, making a farce out of Baby's struggles so far and the court system in our country in general by over-simplifying and trivializing all the issues the film had so far raised, just for the sake of a clean happy ending for all involved that you can see coming from miles away. When a film goes from saying for 2 hours that "these people will never change" to a sudden change of heart for all involved in the last 15 minutes, you know not to take anything a film like this propagates to heart.
Sonakshi Sinha does her best to anchor the uneven screenplay with a lot of charm during the film's comic portions but Dasgupta is unable to extract a certain vulnerability from her lead actress when it comes to the more low-key drama moments. Varun Sharma continues to play the exact same character in every film, each time to lesser and lesser success. Badshah makes an okay acting debut, trying to make up for lack of acting chops with extra swagger. You know hiring Anu Kapoor in a film is worth the paycheck when there's a courtroom scene present.
Eventually, Khandaani Shafakhana ends on a trite but hopeful note as Baby's dreams to become a doctor are fulfilled and we finally get to see a female patient arrive at the clinic, only a little too late. This is something that could've very easily been brought up earlier in the film, if only the writer was interested in actually crafting a transgressive piece of Cinema that could make actual difference. Instead, all we're left with once again is a flaccid attempt by Bollywood to capitalize on a social cause for a few extra bucks and momentary pleasure.