Cast: Sonakshi Sinha, Varun Sharma, Annu Kapoor, Badshah
Director: Shilpi Dasgupta
The word sex remains such a taboo subject that no matter what, or how open minded the young are, a large percentage of us would rather brush it under the carpet. At least in our part of the world.
After the critical and box office successes of both Vicky Donor and Shubh Mangal, comes debutante director Shilpi Dasgupta’s Khaandani Shafakhana, a no-holds-barred but neither-preachy-nor-serious take on sex clinics in India.
Though revolving around the small town of Hoshiarpur in Punjab, the film is an attempt to jostle with the new generations who don't shy away from uttering some of the unmentionable or socially proscribed words with so much ease that their parents turn all shades of red and crimson, and eventually blue in the face trying to suppress anger over their expressive speech.
All hell breaks loose when Punjabi kudi Babita Baby Bedi (Sonakshi Sinha) is gifted a sex clinic by her favorite mama (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) who specifically mentions gifting his fertility clinic in his will but only upon fulfilling a precondition: she has to run it successfully for six months before she can reap rich dividends and sell it for monetary gains.
After much-debating Baby agrees to run it herself since her brother (Varun Sharma) does nothing and lives off her income as a salesgirl. Her mother (Nadira Babbar) too has little hope but doesn’t have much say in her daughter’s decision making to run such a clinic that would earn them disrepute in the city.
There are some delightful one-liners and SInha is in sync with the requirements of the mostly-funny-but-sometimes-drab two hours of drama and facile development of the script. Its pace slows down with nothing but repetition of the same idea. The most jarring problem with the film is when the writer Gautam Mehra falls short of ideas to take the story forward. Not being sanguine whether to give us a comic tale of a serious subject or allow comic serious take on the subject of sex and sexuality, he seems to fall between two stools.
Not that there aren’t some truly memorable scenes in the film. When advocate Taagra (Annu Kapoor) insists on Baby taking up the offer, he comes up with lines that instantly remind you of his performance in Vicky Donor. There are many elements in the film that had all the chances of going haywire. The newness comes from the protagonist being a girl residing in a small town in Punjab where age-old values and conservatism abound. When the people of this country pretend that the so-called Indianness and its sense of morality get eroded by the values that westerners propagate, they seem to have no idea that we are fast approaching as the most populated country in the world. The orthodox society and its double standards passed off as social mores we need to value and respect sound ludicrous. When some of the patients who visit such clinics share their trauma of losing their libido or not being able to rise to the occasion or doctors at one of India’s best known Unani institutes, suspend the services of one of their staff Mamji (Kharbanda) for being too explicit in his classroom while imparting sex education, you feel enraged for identifying with the moral tone that we often see and hear being mouthed by many hypocritical lot of men and women. The court room scene that plays down the rising climax has a unconventional proceedings to make way for some comic and witty drift, but soon exposes the humourless side of the writer's imagination.
Also, there seems to nothing happening by way of a plausible plot: neither Baby’s predicament is explained, nor the overall psychographics that creates a clash between the old traditional and the new and modern values, is dealt with. It’s like building a crescendo effect with all ingredients in place and allowing all elements to peter out. The end result is that it gets funny and sweet in spots, though the light moments get lost in the haze of imitation and lack of any ambition. What would have worked in the film’s favour if a lively, frank and often perceptive though insightful, self-mocking and engagingly alive action had replaced the limp setting, more so in the second half. Instead, what we get is a pleasant disappointment, only because we do get the laughs occasionally but director Dasgupta doesn’t go for more.
But kudos come her way (as also Sinha’s) for attempting to make a bold theme look simple and not farcical, though there are also some very poor jokes cracked on the various aspects of sexuality, which could have been better written....