The setting is a small town in the hinterland of India. Boy meets girl and falls head over heels in love with her. Boy chases and woos girl till he wins her over. They have a dream wedding and live happily ever after. Typical Bollywood love story? Not anymore.
The girl, who happens to be more educated and focused than the boy, ditches him at the altar to pursue her dream career. End of the love story? Surprisingly, no. The boy cannot get over her and pursues her to Singapore, where he witnesses first-hand, the sweat and efforts she has to put in to excel in her job. Used to being mollycoddled all his life, the boy is in for a rude awakening when he realises how small and narrow-minded he and his family are, and how outdated their patriarchal domination of women is.
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Badrinath ki Dulhania ushers a mini revolution of sorts in its story and treatment of the subject of women’s empowerment. Is it an indication of the societal change that is slowly taking place in India’s tier two and three towns? Are marital and couple relationships changing from the old paradigm of man providing and woman keeping house? Are educated women slowly rising to take charge of their lives and have started to hold the reins of man-woman relationships? More importantly, are mutual respect and appreciation of each other becoming more important than romantic love?
Suppressed for ages and denied any kind of economic or intellectual freedom, women in our hinterlands are slowly but surely moving towards more egalitarian relationships. They want their place in the sun, and men better understand that.
In the film, the bride is not only more educated and career-minded; she declares frankly that she doesn’t respect him and refuses him outright initially. It is only when he undergoes a paradigm shift in his thinking and behaviour that she starts considering him groom material.
Not at the cost of her budding career though. She focuses on her career, and he minds the house and his parents. She bails him out whenever he lands in trouble, even to the extent of rescuing him from prospective molesters! A far cry from the damsel in distress syndrome, isn’t it?
Defying societal norms to pursue one’s dreams requires an iron will and fierce determination, as displayed by Vaidehi in the movie. Despite her parents’ disapproval and subsequent denunciation, she goes ahead with her plans. Charting a career for herself, away from the cosy security of family support, she preserves her identity and independence even when in love.
Yes, in a place like Mumbai or Bangalore, women call the shots, but look around you in Meerut or Balasore, Patiala or Rajahmundry, and the scene changes totally. Much like the Bhabhi in the film, bright girls give up their dreams to adjust to domesticity. (Much like my friend, Neha, who defied society and family 30 years ago to marry a man from a different religion and gave up a promising academic career, and her faith, only to dwindle into a frumpy housewife with a troubled marriage.)
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The message in the film is loud and clear – “Appreciate your woman”. Men from patriarchal setups in India are hardly as understanding or appreciative as Alok in the film who admits, without qualms, that the credit for the rapid growth of their business went mainly to his wife, Urmila. Usually men dismiss the behind-the-scenes guidance and support from wives as things to be taken for granted.
Being appreciative of your partner’s skills and capabilities doesn’t make you any less a man, is what the film stresses. Often it cements relationships with a solid grounding of trust and mutual respect.
Badri learns to use the microwave and washing machine and do his share of chores, though we wish this could be demonstrated more frequently in the film. He could have rustled up a meal for his Vaidehi, or keep the house tidy and clean to welcome her. Or washed and ironed her uniform so that she could be impeccably turned out for her day at work.
Men in India’s hinterland are slowly waking up to realise that their spouse or lover will have her own identity apart from just being someone’s wife, daughter or daughter-in-law. She’s determined to follow her heart and pursue her career. And she won’t let love come in the way. Thanks BKD for showing this reality.