Generally, in a few regressive Hindi film love stories, it is the boy who harasses the girl he has fallen in love with, while she vociferously protests. What is unusual about Badrinath Ki Dulhania is that in this movie it is the girl who, on her own volition, acquieces to the modus operandi of the boy’s courtship. Badrinath Bansal (Varun Dhawan) lives in Jhansi and Vaidehi Trivedi (Alia Bhatt) is from Kota. They meet at a wedding and he falls in love with her. Vaidehi has had a nasty romantic history and is understandably cynical about the business of marriage. A boy she once loved ran off with the money she invested in a joint enterprise they were supposed to start after they got married. She had taken the money from her father, and the shock of this bitter experience gave him heart trouble. So when Badrinath starts pestering her to marry him, and then stalking her when she says no, Vaidehi is initially put off. But the man is persistent and clever and realizes that though she is an educated girl who wants a career, she is also very keen to see her sister married, and needs some help in this direction.
Help in this area means getting involved in the seedy backroom marriage deals made in small town India. We see well appointed men and women, living in luxurious homes and driving the latest cars, involved in what looks distinctly like cattle trade. Exorbitant demands of dahej (dowry) are whittled down with furious bargaining. Matrimonial websites are frequently mentioned for their utility in the sifting of essential information like income, background and occupation. It is a sordid business which reduces love and marriage to the transactional level of a stock exchange, with brokers outshouting each other for the best shares in the market.
Nauseating as this overt representation of a middle class matrimonial exchange is, Vaidehi insidiously collaborates with Badrinath to make a sickening agreement. She says yes to his marriage proposal, in exchange for his assistance in selecting a suitable boy for her sister. However, once a successful alliance is negotiated, she runs off to become an air hostess in Singapore, leaving Badrinath to social humiliation in Jhansi.
In other words, Badrinath Ki Dulhania makes the point that when it comes to the harassment of women, two hands are needed to clap. This is the oldest trick in the patriarchy manual. It gives the protagonist and the director carte blanche to hand Vaidehi the subsequent treatment. Badrinath turns up in Singapore, kidnaps her, locks her in the trunk of a car and tries to throttle her. Finally, when he creates a scene outside her apartment, he is booked by the police and his passport confiscated. Unbelievably, Vaidehi then bails him out of prison, acknowledges that she has done him wrong, and makes it clear that she will succumb to his ‘charm’, provided he lets her continue working in the job she loves.
Because the conversations in the film are entertainingly written in the local idiom and the actors are passionate, the movie will get substantial traction and some mileage. The movie positions itself in popular culture as advocating the freedom of a woman to choose career over marriage. However, broken down into its individual segments, what we get is a virtual endorsement of harassment as a legitimate tool of persuasion.