Khandaani Shafakhana Movie Review: Sonakshi Sinha delivers a dry sermon on sex talk
Shilpi Daspupta’s comedy is well-intentioned, but suffers from the same hypocrisies that afflict Indian drawing rooms
Words can contradict themselves. Take, for example, the English word ‘forward’ — as someone remarks about Khandaani Shafakhana's protagonist Baby Bedi (Sonakshi Sinha), a spunky medical representative trying to raise sexual awareness in small-town Punjab. The literal meaning is that Baby is progressive, but it’s implied more as a slight, a cautionary insult along the lines of ‘you’re stepping out of bounds’. Or take the name of the town itself: Hoshiarpur (Land of the Aware), whose scandalised citizens scamper each time they hear the word ‘sex’, or see Sonakshi pull up in her Scooty.
Cast: Sonakshi Sinha, Badshah, Varun Sharma
Director: Shilpi Dasgupta
When her mamaji (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) dies, Baby comes into a strange fortune. For six months, she must run the late apothecary’s sex clinic. There are patients to look after, but, more importantly, scalding judgment to bear. Baby soldiers on because she has to: her brother is a slug, her mother is old, and her uncle has his eyes on their house. The story turns when a local rapper, Gabru Ghataak (Badshah), shows up one night, asking for help.
Sonakshi wades confidently in Ayushmann Khurrana territory. Her frequent scowls and bulging eyes drive the film’s humour. Beyond that, there’s little else to relish in Khandaani Shafakhana. It lacks the freshness of a Vicky Donor, and the familiar strains of Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and Badhaai Ho are set to repetitive effect. Varun Sharma has become annoyingly one-note, chewing the fat as yet another slacker in a film that refuses to let him shine.
Badshah does more than show up in spangled shirts and faux-hawks. He allows director Shilpi Dasgupta to play up his pop persona and deflate it a little. It’s a fun, reassuring cameo, and the rapper tinges his performance with a droll awareness, like in the scene where he sports a hussar uniform with tigers on them. “Image is everything,” he hisses to Baby, although he couldn’t care less about it.
Khandaani Shafakhana is a satire, though it works better as a memory piece. Baby is sucked into her childhood as she retreats into her mamaji’s clinic. She is struck by the cooing pigeons, the rows of medicinal jars and scattered bookshelves. A grandfather clock stands off to one side, which later breaks. The production design reminded me of Jim Gavin’s Lodge 49, another nostalgia piece about slackers, healers and stunted dreams. Baby often flashes on her younger self, a little girl who was encouraged by her uncle to take up medicine, but who, as years passed, had to let it go.
There’s a running gag in the film about storytelling. When cornered in a conversation, Baby spins a long and convoluted yarn about ludicrous characters — a man swallowed by a crocodile, for example. It’s her way of overwhelming the listener with details while extracting convenient morals. This, I’m afraid, is also true for Khandaani Shafakhana, a film that babbles on about sex education and empowerment but reveals precious little. The ending expectedly veers into a courtroom scenario — the only ‘out’ for filmmakers who overestimate their plots.
You cannot sermonise on sexual disorders while also humiliating your principal villain for the same. It’s this attitude — the perpetually silly impulse to crack a joke — that needs to go first. Shilpi’s debut effort is well-intentioned but suffers from the same hypocrisies that afflict Indian drawing rooms. Not a line of dialogue sticks and there are very few talking points in this film on sex talk...