An older couple realise that they are pregnant at a strange point in their life. Their older son is of ‘marriageable’ age himself. While their bodies have not lost libido, theirs is an age where they are expected to have stopped expressing their physical desires. Badhaai Ho explores society’s warped relation with sexuality, with the pregnancy as a mere catalyst, and not the actual subject of the film. What the film does explore is our ageist views of sexuality and relationships.
The Kaushiks are a typical middle class family, living with two sons and Mr. Kaushik’s mother. They are ‘normal’ in every way. When they realise Mrs. Kaushik is pregnant, it throws off their self-perception. Even in their own eyes, they are not ‘normal’ anymore. The shame that they feel for being in this situation is evident, and Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao have brought it out beautifully. From the doctors at the clinic to their own children and their nosy neighbours, they are the subject of ridicule for this ‘accident’. Their healthy relationship and support for each other is what keeps them together in spite of all this.
The couple may have typical gender roles where the husband earns, and the wife is a homemaker. But between themselves, they have built a world of love and support for each other. The way they are intimate with each other as he reads his poetry to her, the way they glance at each other at a family wedding, are typical romantic scenes that are done to death in Bollywood. Seeing them in an older couple is not only refreshing, but also essential. The film reminds us that they aren’t just parents, but also individuals, with their own lives.
The film reminds us that they aren’t just parents, but also individuals, with their own lives.
Mrs. Kaushik is not just a loving and gentle mother and caregiver, but an assertive woman in her own way. She stands up for herself to her mother in law where her husband is too afraid to take a stand. She is vocal and open about her feelings to her husband. And when she realises she is pregnant, she is firm about her choice to not get an abortion. Mr. Kaushik is strikingly supportive of her decision, even as he worries about the financial burden of a new child as he is on the cusp of retirement. He understands that the final decision rests with her, since it is her body that will bear the child. He may be submissive as his mother constantly doles out criticism to his wife, but to his credit, he stands up for her when his sons openly disrespect her.
While she is getting subtly reprimanded by the female relatives, Mr. Kaushik is getting complimented for being a ‘stud’ by one of the male relatives, who insists he talk to his son about having a baby. In a meaningless subplot where the son turns out to be effeminate in his dance moves, this attempt at making a joke out of his lack of masculinity is not funny at all. If the purpose was to challenge the hoax of ‘normalcy’ that middle class families live in, the message gets lost.
After having been the male lead in films that dealt with sperm donation, erectile dysfunction, and now a parental pregnancy, Ayushmann Khurrana may as well be the most secure man in Bollywood. As the eldest son in the Badhaai Ho household, the concept of his parents having an active sex life is a matter of great embarrassment for him. Nakul, his brother and all the other family members are shown coping with this ‘good news’ in their own ways.
Nakul and his brother are seen dealing with it in their own ways where they tackle mockery and bullying by some display of machismo. Their father receives complimentary looks and comments, and gains some confidence with peer interaction. The mother, on the other hand, is constantly shamed for this act by women her age. This gender contrast is evident throughout the movie. Sexuality in an older woman is such an alien concept in films.
As the eldest son in the household, the concept of his parents having an active sex life is a matter of great embarrassment for him.
While both the man and the woman share some amount of shame, this burden is much higher for the woman. To acknowledge that she engaged in intercourse, where the unwanted pregnancy is evidence that it wasn’t for procreative purposes, is a problem that only Mrs. Kaushik faces. These feelings have been internalised by her to such an extent that she feels guilty every time someone brings it up, looks at her, or makes any such remarks.
Nevertheless it is the mother in law stands up to her in front of relatives calling her ‘unsanskaari’ for getting pregnant at this age. This moment of female solidarity is important, even though the mother in law herself was seen demonstrating the same judgemental attitude moments ago in the film. Dadi breaks away from the trope of the ‘nagging mother in law’ who constantly finds fault with her in spite of her looking after her needs in illness and keeping track of her medicines. Her support goes a long way in restoring her daughter in law’s self esteem.
Even though the movie falls apart in some parts, it is an important movie. It is reassuring to know that films are not only willing to explore stories of love that come from the most ordinary but unexpected spaces. As there is more conversation for accepting children for who they are, it is also important to note that it goes both ways. We must accept parents for who they are as well – people, with human needs and desires. And there is no shame in that.
Featured Image Source: Peninsula Qatar