Review: In ‘Badrinath Ki Dulhania,’ Boy Meets Girl (and Learns to Respect Her)


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Alia Bhatt, top, and Varun Dhawan in “Badrinath Ki Dulhania,” directed by Shashank Khaitan.

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Dharma Productions

Recent Bollywood movies have tried out, hesitantly and conservatively, versions of the Modern Woman: Heroines can have careers; they can live alone in the big city; they can even (if very rarely) have sex before marriage.

But marry, it seems, they must. Shashank Khaitan builds his romantic comedy “Badrinath Ki Dulhania” (“Badrinath’s Bride”) around a self-possessed heroine — Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt), whose dreams may be ill-defined but don’t necessarily include marriage.

Vaidehi is up against a lot: The first scenes of “Badrinath” remind us comically, but baldly, that baby boys are still considered assets while girls are liabilities. (Instead of the usual note that no animals were hurt during its filming, this movie starts with a disclaimer about the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act.)

Badrinath (Varun Dhawan), the fellow who falls for Vaidehi — at a wedding, of course — comes from a well-to-do family in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, that practically screams patriarchy. (His mother and sister-in-law are mainly silent; his father is a scowling tyrant with a sadistic streak.) Badrinath may be a notch or two above Vaidehi socially, but as she points out to him, he’s not her equal: She’s smart and ambitious; he’s neither. He is, though, sweet and persistent. Reader, she agrees to marry him.

Complications ensue, including a second-act detour to Singapore, where Vaidehi is studying to become an air hostess. (This is the best career Mr. Khaitan could dream up for his heroine?) Badrinath turns up in Singapore, too, and it’s on this non-Indian ground that the movie hammers home its point: A real man is one who respects women, or in his case, learns to. (And, yes, it’s sad that the movie’s simple moral has currency in present-day America as well as in India.)

If “Badrinath” ends up being less about female empowerment than about schooling gents on a cardinal rule, its pop comes from Ms. Bhatt. Hindi cinema conventions and Mr. Khaitan’s script may constrict Vaidehi’s options, but Ms. Bhatt cannot be contained. Without ever falling into the clichés of spunky Bollywood heroine, she effortlessly embodies that admirable thing: a modern woman.

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