If nothing else, Ayushmann Khurrana deserves a standing ovation for his performance in Badhaai Ho. Not because his performances are flawless. Simply put, he has mastered the art of slipping into his characters effortlessly. The buzz surrounding his performance in the recent Andhadhun, in which he played a blind pianist, had not yet died down when Khurrana hit the theatres again as the guy-next-door dealing with an unimaginable family crisis. As the movie trailer revealed, his mom is pregnant.
Ayushmann's Nakul Kaushik hails from a middle-class family. Son of a travelling ticket examiner (TTE) in the northern railways, Khurrana and his close-knit family live in government quarters in Lodhi Road. He has to seek permission from his family even for on-site work assignments in the US, but that doesn't mean they are conservative. They simply want everyone to stay together.
His colleague-turned-girlfriend, Renee (a pleasant Sanya Malhotra), belongs to an elite family in Delhi. She lives with her mother (a subtle Sheeba Chadha) in an upscale locale. One of the standout moments in the film is a scene in which Renee celebrates her mom's 50th birthday. The mother is fond of Nakul, but concerned about his family. She describes it as a circus she doesn't want to buy tickets to. Nakul happens to hear the conversation, which is followed by a confrontation. While doing that, he switches from the refined Hindi and English he uses in public to the khari boli of western Uttar Pradesh. And that happens beautifully, without the slightest trace of pretence.
Khurrana impresses, as do most of the other actors including Neena Gupta as Khurrana's mother and Gajraj Rao as the father. Gupta, often remembered for her bold roles, has made a good selection, and makes every effort to make the character likeable, but the script (written by Shanatanu Srivastava, Akshat Ghildial and Jyoti Kapoor) fails her. Except for the fact that she is a mother to two grown-up sons and is expecting, there's not much for her to play with, unlike some of the layered roles in the recent years like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Dum Laga Ke Haisha. We have seen Rao playing an idiosyncratic dad in The Viral Fever's many videos, but he still manages to bring freshness to his character.
The film, however, is not as impressive as the performances, mostly because of the cliches it gets trapped. The core idea of the film is quirky, but it fails to live up to the expectations. Apart from a few funny moments, it ends up a banal family drama, overplayed saas-bahu dynamics, and some cringeworthy jokes—especially one on a man confused about his sexuality. At a time when there's a serious discourse about the LGBTQ community, a caricatured queer character is the least we expect in the popular culture.
Songs mark almost every occasion, almost making the film a clone of a TV serial. It's distracting and unnecessary. As it darts from the romantic track between Nakul and Renee, and the way Nakul's life turned topsy-turvy because of the situation at his home, it seems confused about its theme. But thank god for Ayushmann, who has mastered the art of balancing eccentric films, who makes it watchable.
Director: Amit Sharma
Actors: Ayushmann Khurrana, Neena Gupta, Sanya Malhotra, Gajraj Rao